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Actors Are Humans, Not Demigods: Know Why It’s Crucial to Address Mental Health

Tamil actor Deepa recently died by suicide. We try to answer if the glitz and glamour of cinema make actors lonely.

Published
Cinema
5 min read
Actors Are Humans, Not Demigods: Know Why It’s Crucial to Address Mental Health
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(Trigger warning: this story discusses themes of suicide. If you feel suicidal or know someone in distress, please reach out to them with kindness and call these numbers of local emergency services, helplines, and mental health NGOs if you or anyone you know.)

While the general perception might be — "With fame and money, how can actors even be depressed? Aren’t they living their best lives?" — the reality is quite grim. Actors are not demigods; they are humans too. They feel pain, they go through loss, and they also go through depression just like you and me. However fancy and glossy their outer world might be, their cores are made of the same emotions we have.

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From well-renowned comedian Robin Williams to young Tamil actor Deepa, who is the latest addition to the long list of actors who died by suicide, there could be several reasons why they chose to end their lives. However, one factor that is predominantly common in most of the actors’ deaths is their unaddressed mental health issues.

What happens behind the scenes in an actor's life? Is the glitz and glamour of the cinema making our actors lonely? What is the pressure like for aspiring actors in the film industry? Is a larger number of actors seeking mental health support after prominent celebrities like Deepika Padukone came out about their depression? Or is this lacking completely? How can the film industry be supportive?

In the pursuit of seeking answers to these questions and understanding the ground reality, The Quint spoke to aspiring actors, social activists, and members of the Chinnathirai Nadigar Sangam, a Tamil Nadu Serial Actors’ Association.

With respect to the recent suicide case of Tamil actor Pauline Jessica, popularly known by her stage name Deepa, The Quint reached out to the Koyambedu Police station for more details. Chandharasekhar, the Inspector of Police, Koyambedu said that the doctors have reported that Deepa's death is a suicide. They have found a suicide note from her apartment that mentioned failed relationship being the reason behind her decision. They are investigating further to find if someone abetted her for the suicide, as well.

Sometimes it is because aspiring actors feel dejected about not being able to make it big, they lack the support to navigate the film industry, and sometimes it isn't just new actors. Stardom can affect how actors feel about themselves and their interpersonal relationships. Big stars like Silk Smitha is one of such example.

Silk Smitha, Deepa and Robin Williams — actors who died by suicide.

(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

HOW ARE ACTORS' ASSOCIATION HELPING STRUGGLING ACTORS?

Shanmugham, a member of the Chinnathirai Nadigar Sangam said, "Compared to other states, the Tamil industry is welcoming to talents from across the country. Hence, the competition among actors in Tamil Nadu is extremely high. Though there are plenty of native actors who excel with their natural performances and brilliant diction in the local language, the preference for actors from other states is always greater."

Talking about the payment procedures and financial support to actors, Shanmugham said that the association committee takes initiatives to sort out problems regarding payments by coordinating with the actors and recruiting broadcasting channels. "We also coordinate with the producers council and render our support to the affected parties," he added.

"Many young talents rely on acting as a full-time career, which, for all practical reasons, may not be sustainable."
Shanmugham, member of Chinnathirai Nadigar Sangam.

IS ACTING REALLY A SUSTAINABLE PROFESSION?

"I was working in an IT firm after completing my masters in Computer Applications. However, my passion was always acting in films. So, I quit my high-paying job to pursue my passion for acting. I joined a theater group and have been working on commercials. Even after three years of consistent effort, I still haven’t gotten a big break in cinema", says Rahul, an aspiring actor from Chennai.

As someone who has been in the industry for so long, Shanmugham urges young and aspiring actors to have a primary source of income outside of acting, given the insecure and unstable nature of this job. He further said that it's the best way to navigate the industry, since it is highly competitive and the pay scale for actors, especially beginners, is meager.

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WHY ARE ACTORS SUSCEPTIBLE TO DEPRESSION?

Kalyani Rohit, an actor and social activist says, "Suicide is not restricted to any specific professionals like actors. It is just that they are in the limelight and their lives get spoken about at large. However, speaking specifically about actors, their market value has a shelf life. For those who relish stardom, things become vapid once they are forced to live a non-celebrity life after their prime hours. I know what it costs to speak out about depression. In the past, I faced the brunt of not being offered any roles after I opened up, and I understand why actors refrain from speaking up and stay in their shells. They do it to avoid sabotaging their careers."

"However, it is like the 'Me too’ movement. Since more actors who are influential, like Deepika Padukone, have come out with their encounters with depression, the stigma is slowly dissolving,"
Kalyani Rohit, added.

ADDRESSING THE MENTAL HEALTH OF ACTORS

While Nadigar Sangam (South Indian Artist Association) works towards the welfare of actors and some big stars who are benevolent and donate funds to financially support struggling actors in the industry, there is still a lack of a streamlined system that enables effective mental support for them.

As Indians, we know 911 is the emergency contact number in the United States of America. But do we know who to call when we need help in India?

She further added that the lack of proper functional suicide helplines in the South is a major roadblock. Even the operational helpline numbers, at most times, are handled by volunteers who are not trained or equipped to counsel people who are in distress.

Similar to the disclaimers before movies that warn us about smoking and consumption of alcohol; it is equally important to mention those on suicides and mental health-related problems.

Kalyani also said, "Just like how sex education in recent times through films is creating ripples of positive effects, the awareness about mental health should also become mainstream. The taboo associated with people opening up about their depression should be broken. Creating safe and secure avenues to discuss one’s problems with confidence and privacy is the need of the hour."

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read and Breaking News at the Quint, browse for more from entertainment and cinema

Topics:  Mental Health   South Cinema 

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