Posted by Kalyani Suresh
Trigger warning: Mention of death by suicide, mental health
When my mother was alive, I did not know she was depressed. How I wish I did, for she would have been alive and happy today. I lost my mother on 24th December 2014.
What started off as a normal day turned into the most horrific day of my life. I lived next door to my mother, and as per routine, I was getting ready to go to the gym with her. Upon ringing her doorbell, she didn’t seem like her chirpy, active self. Something felt off, and she looked groggy. I asked her to get ready, gave her some lime juice, and went to get ready myself.
I returned 20 mins later to pick her up. I rang the bell several times. By now, my worst fears were looming over me – something did not feel right. I managed to break the door open. The dogs were no longer barking and could not be seen. I ran inside, only to find my mother had hung herself and died by suicide. I was 23 years old, and my life changed forever that day.
After my mother passed, I stumbled upon her diaries that elaborate on how she was depressed for a long time. Lost, and feeling hopeless, I too tried to take my own life. I tried to seek help – by calling local helplines, but no one picked up. My husband found me, and helped me, and today, with all the help I have gotten, I am doing fine.
There must be so many people out there who are trying to get help but are not able to because no one is answering the helpline. I want to change that. No one should lose their family members because they could not get help. 36% of the global deaths by suicide of women take place in India says a 2018 Lancet report even though Indian women account for only 18% of the global female population.
According to a report by The Print, for every 100 deaths by suicide in India, only 63 get reported through the NCRB (National Crime Records Beaurau). Among men, the average under-reporting is 27% per year, and among women, the average under-reporting is as high as 50% per year. This essentially means that India does not accurately count the number of deaths by suicides, especially among women.
Unfortunately, women’s mental health is kept further down in the spiral as they are expected to keep a happy, smiling face, despite the systemic injustice or torture that they may be going through. In a patriarchal set-up, usually, a woman’s health is the least of the family’s priorities, and her mental health is hardly even ever brought up.
It is sad that people make light of mental health, especially the word ‘depression’. People often say, “Oh I am so depressed today, I’ll go watch a movie.” Mental health is a serious illness and needs to be treated as that. Had I been sensitised to identifying signs of a person suffering from depression, I wouldn’t have lost my mother.
The more people talk about it, the more lives we will be able to save, and that is why I made a conscious decision to speak out about my experience after my mother passed away. I started a petition on Change.org called Change.org/CallForHelp through which I am urging OTT platforms to display the mental health helpline number ‘Kiran’ as a disclaimer. Even if I am able to save one life through my petition, it would be an honour to my mother’s memory.
My mother would often say, ‘I don’t want to live anymore’ or, ‘I want to end my life’. Most times I would talk her out of it, but sometimes, honestly, I would get irritated. During her last few days, she kept saying this and I kept dismissing it instead of actually addressing it. The lack of understanding of my mother’s disease cost me her life.
Through my social media activities and even through my change.org petition, I want our country to not let mental health issues be brushed under the carpet. The aim is to help not just people who are going through mental health issues but also their families. I urge through the petition the 24×7 free telecounselling mental health helpline to be displayed across all Indian OTT platforms (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar, Zee5). Adding this number as a disclaimer during relevant scenes, and before a show starts, will make viewers aware of who to reach out to when they need help.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a collaboration with Change.org
Kalyani is a well-known actress and celebrity among the Tamil audience. She made her debut as a child artist in the movie Alli Thantha Vaanam, alongside Prabhu Deva in 2001. Recently, the actress shared on her social media her memories of the day her mother died by suicide and requested that all the OTT platforms display the free mental health helpline 24×7.
Featured Image Source: Shondaland.com