Bollywood superstar Deepika Padukone just publicly revealed her recent struggle with depression and anxiety. Speaking up about personal challenges is highly uncommon for female celebrities in India. Like most of her peers in the Indian film industry, the actress is best known for her beauty, style and string of successful Bollywood movies. In past interviews, Padukone appears poised and politically correct. Female actresses are expected to be seen, not heard.
I’ve long appealed for more Indian female celebrities to use their clout towards raising awareness for social issues. However, celebrity women often risk their star status if they raise their voices.
Raising Awareness About Depression By Breaking the Mold
But in a candid opinion piece for Indian newspaper Hindustan Times, Padukone writes: ”I thought it was stress, so I tried to distract myself by focusing on work, and surrounding myself with people, which helped for a while. But the nagging feeling didn’t go away….over a period of time, it got worse.” After intervention from loved ones, she went to see two psychiatrists, and was diagnosed with depression and anxiety.
She also reveals she was on medication for her condition while filming one of 2014′s biggest Bollywood movies, Happy New Year.
Padukone addresses the taboo in South Asian society that surrounds mental health concerns, and calls for more “support and understanding.” She also writes about the urgency to address this issue by citing a World Health Organization statement that depression will be the most widespread epidemic in the next few years.
Staggering Suicide Rates in India
India already experiences the highest suicide rates in the world; of 804,000 suicides recorded worldwide in 2012, India accounted for 258,000, shows World Health Organization (WHO) data. Yet, there is only one psychiatrist for every 343,000 Indians currently. “Among other problems are depression, acute economic insecurity, anxiety among youths over educational success, and distress among young women caught in a bind between the opportunities of a changing India and pressure from traditionally minded families to marry,” a New York Times article states.
Misunderstanding Mental Health in South Asia
Padukone’s influence in India reaches far, and there’s a good chance her article has already raised the profile of the disorder. Dealing with depression through psychiatric treatment is perceived as shameful and the condition is largely misunderstood. By writing about other people’s reactions to her disorder, Padukone highlights one of the biggest misconceptions about the condition: “The most common reaction is, ‘How can you be depressed? You have everything going for you. You are the supposed number one heroine and have a plush home, car, movies… What else do you want?’” She explains, “this is probably one of the deadliest mental disorders. Nothing, including life, makes sense to people suffering from it.” Kudos to Padukone for daring to break convention to raise her voice about this important topic. Her move is one that could even have career repercussions. But having the courage to speak up about this could impact thousands of lives, especially among Indian youth, where suicide rates are alarmingly high. She is currently working on an initiative to create awareness about anxiety and depression, and “help people,” her article states.
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Shared here by permission, this article originally appeared in Ruchika Tulshyan’s Forbes blog. Ruchika Tulshyan is a Forbes writer on diversity and content strategist for a tech company. She is passionate about telling stories from a different point of view, and covering women’s leadership and Asia. She grew up in Singapore, and since then has lived in five cities across three continents. Ruchika spends her spare time eating, indulging in a newfound love for cooking (she’s told her palak paneer is stellar), and volunteering for Tasveer. Read her Forbes blog and connect with her on Twitter.