Kehlani, Pratyusha Banerjee And The Conversation We Need To Have About Suicide
In what world does someone attempt or successfully commit suicide to gain sympathy, particularly “for the ‘gram”?
In light of singer Kehlani’s recent suicide attempt (and Chris Brown’s insensitive comments regarding her actions) and the death of a popular Indian actress, two things are very clear: Some people wrongfully view suicide as blasé performance art, and we need to have more open and honest conversations regarding mental health. While no one’s turning to Chris Brown to be the arbiter of wisdom or bastion of truth and goodness, he does have influence. And his influence is wreaking havoc and adding fuel to the stigma fire.
The shame surrounding suicide and mental health, in general, is a bit much. Considering the prominence and importance of social media in our daily lives and this digital age, some may assume that attempting suicide, or in Kehlani’s specific case, posting a picture in the hospital and captioning it revealing her attempt to take her life, is a social media ploy for likes, retweets and new followers–or just compassion. While we don’t know every single detail that caused Kehlani to end up in the hospital and don’t need to dissect or analyze the reasons she chose to share the pic and caption it on social media, that reductive reasoning is a hindrance to breaking down suicide stigmas and getting people in similar situations the help they need. That logic also fails to recognize the effects of bullying that occurs on social media platforms, particularly to celebrities and people in the public spotlight, like Kehlani, who received countless insults from perfect strangers after being accused of cheating on NBA star Kyrie Irving.
Another thing suicide is not? It is not something to mock or make light of. Someone who committed suicide or attempted suicide is not “selfish” or guilty of a “cowardly act.” Nor should they be considered a “loser” as actor turned politician Hema Malini tweeted about 24-year-old Indian actress Pratyusha Banerjee, who was found hanging in her Mumbai home on April 1. Malini did not directly name Banerjee, but her rant, in which she refers to “senseless suicides” included the following: “One must learn to overcome all odds & emerge successful, not succumb under pressure & give up easily. The world admires a fighter not a loser.” Malini’s comments are harsh, insensitive and all wrong.
If someone is in a lowly, desolate place full of pain, despair and mental anguish, to them, suicide might seem like the only way out. The only way to permanently ensure that pain will no longer affect them or the people they love. And while outsiders may not be able to make sense of someone’s decision to take their own life, or the situations and circumstances leading up to that very serious decision, it’s not fair to place blame, judge, negatively criticize or shame them at any point.
Doing so, after all, only encourages the misconception that people who attempt suicide are automatically “crazy.” If that’s what a person is taught to believe, this could hinder them from speaking out and seeking help if they’re having suicidal thoughts. There’s also a misconception that people with mental health issues are weak, violent or unpredictable. Or there’s the belief that because nothing is physically wrong with a person who has a mental health illness or because you can’t see their problems with your own eyes, they must be making it up. Some people with mental health issues and psychological distress are fully functioning and seemingly thriving while suffering in silence, hiding the pain and saying everything’s okay because it’s what’s expected of them. And when they address their feelings, maybe they are accused of being dramatic or over-sensitive; of not being able to handle the ups and downs and pressures of life. But minimizing someone’s problems is the wrong approach, in the same way that guilting them into feeling better is the wrong approach.
Suicide can be caused by a host of factors. Depression – particularly depression that is undiagnosed, untreated or inaccurately treated – is the leading cause of suicide. And depression does not discriminate. It can happen to any and everyone at various stages of life, though a recent study shows the most common mental illness among African Americans is depression (and studies have shown that suicides reach a peak during the spring, particularly in April). So what can we do to battle this issue, to raise awareness and erase stigma?
People with mental health concerns need support and they need access to affordable care. While these are seemingly simple resolutions, they are not easy to attain and that’s why we need continued conversation and countrywide initiatives like New York’s Thrive NYC to affect positive, lasting change.
I pray for peace for Banerjee and my condolences to her family. I wish Kehlani well and hope that she gets the help she needs. I have the same hope and wish for peace for those who consider or attempt suicide. There is help out there, and there is no shame in seeking it.