Have you found yourself wondering why people kill themselves or try to? Oh, let me rephrase. If you are among the fortunate few who haven't had to struggle with any kind of mental illness or agony, have you, in the past week, found yourself asking what makes people take their own lives?
If you have, most of you have wanted answers for the following 'whys': Why did he/she have to take his/her life? Why couldn't he/she find someone to confide in? Why did he/she not find another way around the trouble, there is indeed another way, we've had problems in life too. Why don't people who kill themselves think about family, friends, the people they leave behind in great misery?
All the wrong whys.
"What a waste these youngsters," you have probably declared, shaking your head for heightened effect, before moving on to other headlines in the newspaper.
But here's the thing, citing someone's suicide as an example to urge others to look around themselves, among their own, for signs of distress is one thing. And issuing value judgments on victims of suicide is entirely another. The former encourages empathy, the latter is just plain vile.
On Monday, BJP MP and actor Hema Malini decided to show the world, how to NOT discuss suicide or mental illness.
Without naming anyone, she posted the following tweets.
All these senseless suicides which achieve nothg! Life is God's gift for us to live not for us to take at will. We have no right to do that.— Hema Malini (@dreamgirlhema) April 4, 2016
One must learn to overcome all odds & emerge successful,not succumb under pressure & give up easily.The world admires a fighter not a loser— Hema Malini (@dreamgirlhema) April 4, 2016
Just becomes food for the hungry media who chew on news like celebrity suicides until the next sensational news happens.Thn it is forgotten— Hema Malini (@dreamgirlhema) April 4, 2016
Clearly, the 'world' was not giving her the right lessons on admiration.
The anti-thesis to suicidal people that these social media messages created was a superhuman - courageous, concerned about friends and family, successful and happy.
The unfortunate bit here is, Hema Malini has company. Several pundits on the 'god's gift' that life is, took to social media to admonish people who have committed suicide. Television actor Pratyusha Banerjee's suicide and the unverified claims of Priyanka Chopra's manager that she was suicidal in the past, clearly prompted a rush of opinions on social media on suicide. First came the advice - keep your girls away from showbiz, they may just kill themselves.
Then came the sympathisers - do they not think about their parents when they kill themselves on a whim? Finally came the angry anti-suicide crusaders a la Hema Malini - cowards commit suicide, so choose if you want to be a coward.
And if you were not this fascinating human being straight out of a Rajnigandha commercial, you were many things - a failure, selfish, coward and in Hema Malini's words, a loser.
The intent behind this social media outpouring was fairly clear - to discourage people from considering suicide as an option to end their problems. But the language and reasoning that was offered to ask people to not consider suicide, unfortunately, exemplified the reasons people are pushed to take such extreme steps.
The anti-thesis to suicidal people that these social media messages created was a superhuman - courageous, concerned about friends and family, successful and happy. The social media narrative also wholeheartedly endorsed the idea that the only kind of people who were desirable, admired and appreciated are these fantastic specimens of humanity unblemished by fear, selfishness, self doubt and pain. We should only strive to be that person because nothing else cuts in this world.
Rakhi Sawant jumped in to milk the tragedy.
And if you were not this fascinating human being straight out of a Rajnigandha commercial, you were many things - a failure, selfish, coward and in Hema Malini's words, a loser. You'd rather not be that person. And in the heads of some people, it doesn't take time for that knowledge to escalate to, 'you'd rather not be'.
We are, at the end of the day, as much about our fears, as we are about our small victories.
The answer to stop suicides can't be holding up an ideal, unachievable by many. After all, disappointment and depression often follows an individual's failure to live up to many ideals - their own, their families', the society's. This hard-hitting series on the Refinery, where 15 suicide survivors talk about their lives, indicates many of them fell short of arbitrary ideals. Someone feared rotting in hell because of her sexual orientation, someone feared turning into a bad mother, someone feared not living up to a body image, someone feared failing to be the perfect partner.
Their stories are not entirely unfamiliar. We are, at the end of the day, as much about our fears, as we are about our small victories. Some of us fight them alone, some of us have a battery of people rallying around us to fight them, some of us try, fail and complain loudly about it, some of us fail and suffer in silence. Melody Moezzi, a survivor, documented in the Refinery series, says, "It’s not some tiny minority of people, but they’re so fucking quiet about it, and that was the thing that really pissed me off when I went into the hospital and realized that."
If you cannot empathise, please spare everyone the knowledge of what life looks like from atop the moral high horse.
In a country like India, where mental illness or even distress is a taboo that comes with a fear of ostracism, it's not very practical to hurl accusations of cowardice at people who may be struggling with such disorders. Instead of letting Priyanka Chopra decide whether or not she wants to talk about her alleged travails, we quickly bought her former manager's claims and splashed them across newspapers and websites, almost gawking, 'Oh my god, would you believe Priyanka Chopra f***** up?". In our eagerness to find a chink in a 'perfect' armour, we completely forgot what message we were giving out: that a struggle with a mental disorder could also be a circus, meant for public consumption.
We need to understand that preaching on mental illness, minus empathy, cannot be a part of anyone's social media project to look accomplished and smarter-than-the-average. If you cannot empathise, please spare everyone the knowledge of what life looks like from atop the moral high horse.
Also see HuffPost