Time to talk: Don’t suffer from depression in silence till it’s too late

This story was written in September 2020

When it comes to mental health issues, judgmental attitudes in society and horrific levels of stigma are major obstacles for those seeking help. That is what Raashi Thakran is out to change. “It is so important for us to question our own biases and change our own language before trying to change the world,” says the 22-year-old from Bengaluru, adding, “Although awareness and the number of safe spaces has increased, there is still a long way to go. We all are fighting our own battles, and we never know what another person might be going through. It doesn’t take a lot to be kind and compassionate.”

Raashi with her brother Raghav

Raashi’s life changed on January 6, 2019. Around 9 pm her heart caved in after a phone call with her father. “Raghav is gone,” was all that he could say. She heard the words as if from a distance. Her mind froze. Her world fell apart. Raghav, her younger brother, who had gone out for his regular evening jog 30 minutes ago, had taken his own life. “Losing my brother changed the way I viewed the world. I was in my own little bubble, but losing him suddenly turned my world upside down,” she says.

After the unbearable and primal pain of the first few days, as the weeks followed, a new normality emerged. Gradually, a lot of questions began popping into her mind. “There was trauma, grief, anger, and even guilt. There were so many questions, and the only person who could have answered those was no longer around. I asked myself, ‘Why did this happen to us?’ ‘How could I be so ignorant?’ ‘Why did he not reach out to us?’” she says.

Suicide, being quite sudden and unexpected, can make it more traumatic compared to other types of bereavement. Raashi couldn’t sleep for weeks at a time and would cry uncontrollably. “I eventually told my parents that I needed help. That was in May last year. They took me to a doctor and I was diagnosed with anxiety, PTSD, and insomnia. I was put on medication. Slowly, I started getting better and I knew that the medication and therapy sessions, combined with my efforts, were starting to make a difference,” she says.

While dealing with excruciating personal darkness and loss, Raashi also dived deep into research. She wondered had her brother found help, would that have made a positive difference to his life. That’s when she was faced with another grim reality — unresponsive helplines. “I found many mental health-related helpline numbers online. I dialled around 15 numbers. While most of them went unanswered, a few others were switched off. Only three responded. That was a disturbing revelation. I couldn’t help but think what if my brother had called a helpline number as a last resort, and what if he didn’t get an answer. These thoughts kept haunting me and I had to do something about it.”

She decided to launch a campaign on change.org. She filed a petition in July 2019, which was addressed to health minister Harsh Vardhan, to create a national helpline for suicide. Her efforts bore fruit in August 2020 when the Central government launched KIRAN, a 24X7 toll-free helpline to provide support to people facing anxiety, stress, depression, suicidal thoughts, and other mental health concerns. It was a huge victory for Raashi. “Honestly, I didn’t expect it to receive the kind of response that it did,” she says.

What also helped Raashi cope was talking about her grief. “I began using social media as a platform to talk about my trauma and struggles. Soon, other people started coming out with their stories and we formed a community. It is said that there are five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I say that’s not it; I didn’t just stop at acceptance. There is a sixth stage where the actual healing begins to take place. It’s called meaning.”

She found meaning when she began to create a safe space for anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts through her work in the field of mental health. She realises that talking to someone who has suicidal thoughts or is confronting depression may just help save the life of that person, who would otherwise suffer in agonising, lonely silence.

“I work with YourDOST, an online counselling, and emotional wellness platform. I am a WICCI (Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry) Maharashtra Mental Health Chapter Council Member. I also run a blog called ‘All About Mental Health’, where I write on self-care. In the past, I have worked with Teach for India, and launched an initiative called ‘Care for Fellows’, which is a comprehensive employee wellness programme. As a global volunteer with AIESEC (an international youth-run, non-governmental and not-for-profit organisation), I went to Egypt for six weeks to work with refugees on their psychological health and mental well-being,” she says.

Raashi also conducts workshops and sessions on mental health and suicide prevention, and is certified QPR — Question, Persuade and Refer — instructor. The mission of QPR is to reduce suicidal behaviours and save lives. “I am also associated with various organisations and NGOs working on child sexual abuse awareness. I try to use social media to talk about this issue and help survivors connect with the right organisations that can help them.”

When it comes to society’s outlook for survivors, she feels there are gaps that still need to be filled. “Our policy makers can play a huge role. For starters, setting up a national crisis helpline number will act as a safety net for people who need immediate support.” She also hopes that gatekeeper training is made compulsory across the country. “Gatekeepers can play a key role in preventing suicides by recognising early signs. Another need of the hour is appointing a minister with a Cabinet rank as head of mental health and well-being. If the UK can appoint a minister for suicide prevention, so can we.”

Hope is one thing that Raashi will always hold on to. She looks at the future with optimism, considering there has been an increase in media coverage of mental health issues of late. “Of course, there is scope for improvement. Though we have a long way to go in terms of the kind of reporting done by the media, initiatives being taken by the government, and our general opinion surrounding mental health, I’m positive about the future.”

One thing that she probably won’t be able to do ever is going back to being the way she was. “The pain will never truly go away, but it’ll get easier once you start moving forward in life while sustaining your love for the person after their death in everything you do. This is how I plan to live my life now. It’s one life for Raghav and me.”

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Aveek Bhowmik

Aveek Bhowmik

A curious traveller and sports buff, I'm drawn to food, history, cultures & communities. Let’s chat: aveek.bhowmik1611@gmail.com