The passing of actor Sushant Singh Rajput has rattled the country, sparking conversations around mental health that were otherwise not taking place. One of the prominent narratives being put across is that it’s okay to not be okay. This is a powerful message that validates and visibilises the idea that all of us struggle with our mental health at some point and there is really nothing wrong with that.
Ever since the news about Rajput broke, social media was flooded with people amplifying this message in their conversations about mental health. Questions like ‘why am I feeling this loss so immensely, I didn’t even know him personally?’ have been doing the rounds in conversations and in sessions with clients as well. It is important to acknowledge that a lot of us have been moved by this loss and it has brought up some of our own unresolved issues and struggles to the fore - our own personal losses are being triggered by this loss, and we are trying to make sense of our own lives through the lens of Rajput’s passing. As a result of this, the climate (both online and offline) has been that of offering support and holding each other through this loss and confusion by saying it’s okay to not be okay. However, this narrative only scratches the surface of the larger discourse around mental health.
By saying ‘it’s okay to not be okay’, we are instilling hope, we are normalising the idea that happiness is not a permanent emotion, we are reducing the pressure to always strive for positivity, we are asking each other to sit with not being okay. However, by limiting ourselves to this idea, we are not making the mental health narrative holistic.
How do we make the mental health narrative holistic?
While it is okay to not be okay, it is not okay to simmer in the pain all alone. The pain belongs to me, it is my pain but I can also share this pain with someone else so that I am not the only one carrying this burden by myself. We need to normalise the fact that our pain need not be expressed only privately, where no one can see us suffering. In saying this, we are normalising the idea of accessing support and working towards building a system of support. This way, this pain is not limited to the confines of private and personal spaces.
What is my role for my loved ones in this narrative?
The most common message after losing Rajput has been an aggressive urge for people to reach out for help. However, it is important to acknowledge that the onus is not only on the person to reach out but it is also on the community to offer support by building compassionate and safe spaces.
On social support, Bessel van der Kolk in ‘The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma’ writes:
“Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives.”
“Social support is not the same as merely being in the presence of others. The critical issue is reciprocity: being truly heard and seen by the people around us, feeling that we are held in someone else’s mind and heart. For our physiology to calm down, heal, and grow, we need a visceral feeling of safety. No doctor can write a prescription for friendship and love: these are complex and hard-earned capacities. ”
While social support is essential, it is also important to acknowledge the radical role that therapy plays in upholding mental health. An important element of social support would then include encouraging each other to access therapy. This calls for tapping into sensitivity, empathy and compassion that we carry for ourselves and for people in our lives. It then becomes important for us to put in efforts to educate ourselves about the process of therapy through reliable sources and lived experiences of those who have benefitted from it.
What work do mental health professionals need to put in?
Mental health is a systemic issue - it is essential to acknowledge the structural oppressors that have been contributing to it and invisibilising it. Mental health professionals need to put in the work to make therapy intersectional and political. This is because human beings exist in a socio-political context and the forces driving that context have a significant role to play in our mental health experience. Patriarchy, capitalism, ableism, heteronormativity are some of the prominent elements that contribute to our mental health experience. If any of us are located along the margins of these structures, our struggles with mental health are likely to look very different because the system plays a significant role in oppressing us, and these oppressions trickle into our mental health. This happens because being on the margins perpetuates an ‘othering’ culture which ultimately invalidates the experiences of marginalised identities.
Why does therapy need to be political?
It is essential for mental health professionals to view mental health from a systemic lens because it allows them to hold oppressive systems accountable as opposed to looking for ‘symptoms’ and ‘irrational’ patterns within the person - the latter puts the onus on the individual for the pain they carry. For instance, caste-based oppression is a reality in India. If a therapist is not in tune with the role caste plays in the mental health of their DBA client, then the therapeutic work would not capture the entirety of their experience - it would not hold the caste-system accountable for the struggles this person faces (which, in fact, would be doing immense disservice to this client.)
Thus, we need to go beyond telling each other it’s okay to not be okay. We need to expand our support by encouraging therapy, educating ourselves about it, and holding therapists accountable to make therapy intersectional and political.