[to Simon Bishop] “Nelly, you’re a disgrace to depression.”
– Melvin Udall, As Good As it Gets
“The only memory of my father I have is the regular beating we got from him. He died young of liver cirrhosis. My mother had psychotic episodes, but at the time we did not know what to call it. She died young. We were raised by a rich uncle who remained a bachelor. I have my own law-firm in Mumbai. I have a beautiful wife & two daughters. I live in a grand sea-facing apartment. What more could I ask for, right? A few years back, I started noticing how incredibly lonely and miserable I felt. I avoided parties. I started drinking a lot. I felt guilty yet helpless. I looked down the balcony of my building, and the thought occurred to me several times…should I, or shouldn’t I?
Image under the CC license by World Economic Forum
And then, one morning I read an interview. Someone with a penchant for badminton like myself– constantly being judged, and who’s image, like mine, depended a great deal on public perception, above all, a woman – society is less forgiving to them, Deepika Padukone ‘came out’ on her struggle with depression. I decided, to hell with what people think, I need to fix this problem before it kills me. At first, my friends tried hard to get me to do yoga and pranayama – their solution to all of life’s problems. When this did not work, my wife pushed me into seeing a psychiatrist friend of hers. Later, I was referred to you, to sort out my issues” Ms.Padukone saved one life that day
A decade ago, Dr.Dinesh Bhugra who is currently president of the World Psychiatric Association, on an investigation of how mental illness is portrayed in Bollywood. Until that day however, I had never paid heed to the role of celebrities, media, television and books on my profession. I seldom watched movies, TV was a no-no. I read up on how popular media has sometimes helped fight the stigma while at other times fostered more prejudice. Either way, the masses connected with these mediums. I made it my job to watch as many movies as I could, keep abreast of the latest trends and read biographies. At parties, I have conversations about them. The oscillation between enkindling the desire to seek psychiatric help and extinguishing that very desire varies between storylines and people. I make it my business to understand how an audience internalizes these portrayals and how they get influenced by antipathetic scripts.
Scientific literature seems to suggest that the dramatic nature of character representations can amplify emotional effects and can motivate paradigm shifts in peoples attitudes. In therapy, I need for my clients to have not just intellectual but also emotional insights, “an epiphany”, if you will. I oftentimes therefore, use examples from movies during interventions. I regularly prescribe biographies, readings, animations and movies.
My all time favorite prose, and one that I apply to my own life is from the Harry Potter series. It is a charm called “Riddikulus!” that makes Bogarts (that manifests into a form of something you truly fear) less threatening.