Don’t feel sorry for Deepika/Angelina

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My Facebook timeline is a rich source of adoption appeals, Scoopwhoop links and annoyance. Today, a friend’s status update said something like this: What is so brave about Deepika Padukone talking about her depression? She has access to the best medical care. I would rather hear about the common man who battles with it.

Okay, in that case, here’s a wrenching chronicle of a common woman’s battle with depression and suicidal thoughts. According to the stats on the page, 203 people have liked this story on Facebook and 35 on Twitter. Compare this to the numbers for the Deepika Padukone interview: 13k shares on FB, over 600 mentions on Twitter. Her story, where she advocates counselling and medical attention for depression, has reached millions of people because she is a celebrity and well, we like looking at her. But thanks to her, now depression is front-page news. As a bonus, any feature on the illness henceforth can be accompanied with a picture of her gorgeous face, rather than a stock image of someone clutching her head.

Both Deepika Padukone and Sandhya Menon are brave. It is hard to talk about mental health in this country. Yes, the implications are very different for Padukone. She is a beloved star and her career is not likely to be affected by this interview. Even if it was, she’s financially secure enough to take a break or quit altogether. Sandhya Menon—or I, for that matter—do not have that option. But that does not make us any more deserving of your compassion. When you’ve lost the will to get out of bed, it really doesn’t matter how much money you have in the bank.

Another celebrity about whom  it’s been suggested that we ration out our compassion is Angelina Jolie. In a recent op-ed, she talked about getting her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to reduce her risk of cancer, for which she has a strong family history. As a result of this procedure, Jolie has hit menopause in her 30s. The pain and fear of losing her mother to cancer is clearly still raw. When she articulated the reasons behind opting for a preventative double mastectomy two years ago, most called her brave. Some said, other women have it worse, at least she can afford treatment.

Is there a worldwide cap on courage that I don’t know about? Why does calling one person brave take away from another? Why are the thin, rich and beautiful less deserving of our empathy? Neither Padukone nor Jolie have suggested that they think they are doing something extraordinarily brave—that virtue has been foisted on them. Why minimise their struggle just because you’re irritated with someone on FB? Take the high road: hit Unfollow.


–Deepa Menon

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