Did Salman Khan Really Make That Crass, Insensitive Comment about Mental Illness?

Salman Khan doesn’t just make implausible and often outright OTT films. He also shoots his mouth off on serious issues from time to time. Remember how he spoke about training for a movie and compared it crassly with being ‘raped’? Well, he had made a similarly thoughtless and callous comment about mental illness as well and Deepika Padukone set him (and others) straight.

Salman Khan doesn’t have the ‘luxury’ to be depressed

Speaking to a media gathering last year, Khan spoke dismissively about people “getting depressed and emotional” and how he couldn’t “afford that luxury of being depressed or sad or emotional”. The fact that he seems to think that ‘being sad’, ‘being emotional’ and ‘depression’ are all interchangeable terms seems to point to a rank ignorance about the whole issue of mental illness.

The fact that he seemed to think that depression is a ‘luxury; as though it is something that a person chooses to have, points to his callousness. This is of a piece with those who think of mental illnesses as self-indulgent malingering; which the sufferer has to just buck up and snap out of. People are still so largely ignorant about depression and other mental illnesses that they think of it as ‘all in the mind’; something that they wallow in and choose to suffer from.

Deepika Padukone took a stand

In an industry where few people speak out against the mighty Salman Khan, Deepika Padukone took a swipe at the actor and his statement. Padukone is probably the only Indian celebrity to have come out in the open about her own battles with depression. She has worked with several organisations to help sufferers and to create awareness about the condition. While speaking to Vogue she referred to Khan’s comment and clarified that depression is not a choice. She also spoke about the widespread ignorance among people about the illness and how people think depression is the same as being ‘a bit sad’.

Padukone described her battle with depression thus: "Every second was a struggle. I felt exhausted the whole time.” She is someone who is used to admiration and adulation from the people; for someone who is always seen as glamorous, successful and accomplished by the world. For her to admit this had to have been difficult; and likely took a lot of courage.

She has helped to demystify depression and legitimise the suffering of many others. Her coming out in the open has helped many who would otherwise try to downplay or even ignore their own suffering. She also clarified that depression is something that can happen to anyone. It is not something that afflicts only those with too much time and money.

Depression is not a joke

Those with depression know that it is a terrible struggle to simply go from one to another day. Added to this is the fact that there is still a lot of stigma attached to mental illnesses. People hesitate to get the help and treatment they need because they don’t want people around to think of them as ‘mad’ or ‘unstable’. Families are still ashamed of admitting that one of them could need counselling or psychiatric treatment. It is still something that people are somehow ashamed of, rather than an illness that needs professional treatment.

Perhaps Khan was making an offhand ‘joke’ or maybe he really is that ignorant about depression and the gravity of the mental illness. Perhaps he actually thinks that depression is something that people choose to wallow in; something that one can just snap out of. Or perhaps he was thoughtless enough to make a joke in really poor taste.

Either way, he is not alone. There are many who either refuse to accept mental illnesses for what they are, or think of them as a shameful fact to be hidden away. It is for their sakes that we need to educate ourselves about the very real suffering of those with mental ailments, to recognise how these could endanger not just wellbeing but the sufferer’s life itself. Self-harm and suicidal urges are very real possibilities. We all – including Salman Khan – need to acknowledge that depression is neither self-indulgence nor a joke.

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