Every time someone who appears to have it all – good looks, talent, recognition for both, and the money that accompanies the recognition – kills oneself, there is a greater sense of tragedy. There is a media scramble to find plausible reasons for the suicide.
Sushant Singh Rajput has been dubbed a ‘small town boy’ who made it against the odds. He spent several years in Delhi before he moved to Bombay, but he did make it against the odds. He segued from television to cinema with some success. He has been lauded for most of his performances, and had several films lined up. He had no industry connections, but managed to become a rising star. Why, then, everyone seems to ask, did he kill himself?
Of all the ugliness and ignorance on display since Rajput’s death, the most dangerous idea may be the one that people have reason to kill themselves.
There is a sense that depression, failure, indebtedness, poverty, loneliness, or rejection from a lover is a valid “cause” for suicide. And by ascribing causes to suicide, we are perpetuating the myth that suicide is normal under a particular set of circumstances, that it is the culmination of pain.
Celebrities and fans and media hounds have behaved predictably after Rajput’s suicide.
People who claim to have known him well have been posting cryptic messages on social media, suggesting that his career was undermined by the powerful and that his friends had deserted him. Others have been apologising to someone who is no longer around to hear it, along with the banal “RIP”, suitable hashtags, and the smiling selfie.
Photos of his body were circulated on social media and news websites. His relatives had to appear before the media with folded hands, begging them for privacy, within hours of his suicide.
Trolls began their social media attacks – people who were too shocked and pained by the death to type “RIP”, add hashtags and post smiling selfies were accused of not caring enough. The trolls switched sides once these people were spotted at his funeral.
As if seizing upon a chance, quasi-celebrities began to speak about their own struggles with depression, and the media gleefully carried these personal accounts. There have been calls for discussion around mental health and recriminations of friends for “not being there”.
Everyone began to make references to Rajput’s recent hit, Chhichore, in which he plays the father of a student who attempts suicide. The film, like most recent hits, has a flawed narrative – its message is essentially that manipulation and lies can make up for talent, that one is entirely responsible for one’s reactions to circumstances, and that suicide is the natural outcome of certain triggers.
It is crucial to remember that one does not commit suicide “because of” failure or “in spite of” success. Killing oneself is not a logical response to an event. It is not enough to hashtag “mental health”; we need to start educating ourselves about it.
Suicide usually occurs as an impulse, triggered by complex coincidences.
One could be vulnerable due to several factors such as the betrayal of expectations and the need to escape one’s depression, or the conviction that one is a burden on one’s loved ones and that suicide is a selfless act that will free these loved ones rather than plunge them into pain.
One must also have had access to means of killing oneself at the moment the impulse strikes, whether it is pills or a sharp object or a grip for a noose or a balcony.
It is not so much that one has no friends or family to call upon, but that one is unable at that moment to reach out for help. It is not simply that no one is at hand, either – it is more likely that the person needs to hear a particular thing from a particular person, and didn’t.
In addition to such conditions, there are also immediate triggers – a hate message, a job rejection by email, the discovery of having scored below the passing mark in an exam, a reminder of an unpaid loan, the death of a loved one, an article about suicide, a line in a book that suggests suicide is a way out, a picture one has chanced upon, cruelty on social media.
While myths about suicide abound, the fact that it is entirely preventable gets drowned out by all the noise. And we forget that the close friends and family 0f someone who has passed away are particularly vulnerable in the aftermath.
The humanity of targets is sacrificed at the altar of the vitriol and self-righteousness of strangers, and their targets then become objects of hatred. Such is the toxicity of social media networks that spouses and lovers and friends tweet at each other, particularly when they disagree on politics, in an effort to prove they are not hypocritical – by being ridiculous.
The best case scenario, when one is at the receiving end of a trigger, is that one is in a position to sit back, strike a few people off a list of friends or likeable acquaintances, and take control of one’s impulses. The worst case scenario – suicide – is being normalised.
Hashtags and accusations don’t help save other people from suicide. The only thing that could help is writing sensibly about suicide and highlighting that it is preventable, that it is not a natural response, that nobody is a ticking time bomb that will explode one day.
It is not people who are suicidal, but moments that trigger suicidal tendencies that may be latent in most of us. Speaking about mental health or being aware of one’s emotional condition or having friends around cannot be seen as more than factors in suicide prevention. One may be driven to the impulse by the lack of a very particular kind of help at very particular moments, and perhaps what all of us need to do is figure out what we seek in times of distress and whom we seek it from so that we can fight the impulse rather than bolster it with “reasons” that are somehow “acceptable”.
More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:
Nobel for economist, tailspin for economy
Why the Diaspora has so much love to give
Hindi debate: We are all obsessed with homogeneity
We are choking the earth
When Kamal Haasan endorsed harassment
The Dalai Lama and the death of humour
The delusionary Indian intellectual
India's culture of worship has to end
Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India's Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: www.nandinikrishnan.com