ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Sensitivity, Not Sensationalism

The media regurgitates learned biases when reporting on people with mental health disorders.

We have had media trials, and now we have media post-mortems. The death of a young Bollywood actor by suicide proved to be an opportunity for media houses driven by television rating point to treat the event like an all-access pass to unearth the actor’s personal life and speculate on his state of mind. The Bollywood fraternity has largely aided this process by fanning the flames of sensationalism. There were platitudes aplenty, with several notable names expressing their shock and sympathy. The responses ranged from ill-informed, tone-deaf statements of condolence, to levelling allegations of “planned murder” abetted by nepotism, to online smear campaigns against the alleged “nepotism brokers.”

These reactions betray our utter lack of awareness when it comes to mental health. We seem to be obsessed with the need to affix blame so we are able to treat suicides as isolated aberrations, and not as a damning symptom of a failed social system. It is in the interest of neo-liberal societies to make mental health a personal issue, because it preserves the status quo. We have been taught to think of mental health disorders as reactions to stimuli—the ups and downs in one’s personal life. When someone dies by suicide, we try to establish a direct causal relationship drawing from their personal life. Nothing exemplifies this more than the patronising statements made about “giving up.” This is a sentiment that is popularly echoed in India, and feeds into the “strong” versus “weak” binary. In this understanding, those who are able to overcome challenging circumstances by enduring immense hardship are “strong.” Those who question the necessity of this hardship, or recognise the futility of fighting against it, are labelled “weak,” because they have “given up.”

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Updated On : 23rd Jun, 2020

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