Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone
MENTAL health workers in India praised Bollywood star Deepika Padukone on Thursday (January 15) for speaking out about her battle with depression, in a country that has traditionally stigmatised the illness.
Padukone, one of India’s most popular film stars, said it had been “a struggle to wake up” during a period of suffering last year, which led her to seek help and eventually take medication.
“There were days when I would feel okay, but at times, within a day, there was a roller-coaster of feelings. Finally, I accepted my condition,” she said in an interview with the Hindustan Times newspaper on Thursday.
The 29-year-old star of “Chennai Express” said she was now working on a plan to create awareness about depression and anxiety, which would soon be unveiled.
Professor Vikram Patel, of the Public Health Foundation of India, said he was pleased Padukone had “shown the courage” to talk openly about her condition.
“It’s extremely good news that someone who’s extremely popular in the public eye has come out and spoken about a health issue that’s traditionally stigmatised,” he told reporters.
Mirjam Dijkxhoorn, at the Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health in the southern city of Chennai, said it was unusual for an Indian celebrity to speak out about such issues.
“It’s very important,” she said, referring to World Health Organisation statistics that show one in four people will be affected by mental health issues at some point in their lives.
She said people were “scared to talk about it” in India, fearing their illness could reflect on their families.
India’s government announced the country’s first mental health policy last year, which awaits approval in parliament, and it pledged last month to decriminalise suicide. The huge nation has the highest number of suicides in the world.
But Patel said implementation of the country’s existing district-level mental health programme was “extremely patchy” on the ground.
He hoped Padukone speaking out would not reinforce the widespread illusion in India that depression was a problem for rich people - “it’s commoner among the poor and dispossessed”, he said.
Padukone said people struggled to understand her predicament when she was outwardly so successful.
“It’s not about what you have or don’t have. People talk about physical fitness, but mental health is equally important,” she said.
“I see people suffering, and their families feel a sense of shame about it, which doesn’t help.”