Mental Illness In South Asia

We Need To Re-Evaluate The Portrayal Of Mental Health In South Asian Media

The faster we stop accepting the problematic narrative spun around mental health, the faster we can get rid of the stigma and taboo around the subject.


Mental health is a topic that has been on my mind all semester yet somehow never gets talked about. Maybe I fall into that category of people that add to the stigma by not speaking my mind.

But here's a different problem, the portrayal of mental health issues in media, specifically South Asian media.

I am Indian and I am super proud of my heritage, but that doesn't mean I can't see its flaws. A recurring theme in my life is Indian cinema. I learned different languages and a whole lot of life lessons by watching movies. I've always been a literary nut, so I love to see the deeper meaning and symbolism in different works of art, my favorites being books and movies.

Since I've been home for break, I've gone back to my childhood habit of binge-watching Bollywood and Tollywood movies. This gives me a good scope of how certain parts of life are portrayed in various parts of India. Considering how diverse India is in terms of culture and language, it is not surprising that there are a lot of differences. The one unfortunate similarity, however, is the woefully unrealistic portrayal of mental illness.

In one movie, a man has depression and is an alcoholic. His illnesses cause him to become unable to work as a singer anymore. While this is happening, his lover is rising in the industry, which only serves to exacerbate his own gloom. At one point in the movie, she finds him laying in broken glass in his living room, which he tore apart in a drunken rage the night before. After momentarily kicking her out, he comes back to her pleading with her to help him. So far, so good, right? Typical cinema. However, after he hits rock bottom like that, instead of trying to figure out the root cause of issues or help him find a doctor or a rehabilitation center, she takes him to a cottage in a forest and tries to love his problems away. Honey, that's not how that works. Unsurprisingly, when he returns to society he is still depressed and he is still an alcoholic.

In another movie, two children develop dissociative identity disorder as a result of watching their respective families get massacred. They get separated after the incident as they flee to safety. They spend much of their adult life dealing with their illness while trying to locate their childhood friend (the other child). The boy grows up with a fantasy of enacting revenge on those who murdered his family. When all is said and done and the revenge plot is over, the end scene is literally a doctor seeing the two childhood friends reunite and saying "see, now their pain is over and they have found love, their illness will disappear with time."

I probably didn't do justice to the amount of sheer stupidity put into the mental illness arcs of these movies. I probably couldn't even if I spent all day trying. The idea that mental illness is something that is curable with "love" is ridiculous to me. There are so many people who suffer from depression and anxiety and personality disorders and other mental illness that come from loving backgrounds with beautiful families. There are just as many people who suffer with mental illness who don't have that. Mental illness can be much more manageable with a strong support system, sure, but there is no way in hell that another person can "cure" you with love.

Another big issue is that South Asian media loves to portray mental illness without ever naming it. It's as though naming it makes it more real. God forbid someone actually related to a character's situation. You can't fix a problem if you never admit there is one. This probably the biggest reason these types of narratives fall short from doing justice to the illness.

If you teach people that the answer to their problems is finding love, they will look for strength in other people instead of in themselves. The last thing a depressed person needs is some idealized version of love where every day someone is sacrificing their happiness for the other person. Romantic relationships should be between two equals. The best thing that can come out of a story like this a heartbreak and the worst thing that can come out of this is codependence.

This is not me saying that people with mental illness do not deserve love or cannot be in relationships. This is me saying that in a culture where mental health education is long-distant fantasy, in a world where even the most liberal countries hold a stigma against mental illness, these types of repeated half-assed mental health story arcs only serve to add to the problem.

Popular Right Now

Everything You Will Miss If You Commit Suicide

The world needs you.

You won't see the sunrise or have your favorite breakfast in the morning.

Instead, your family will mourn the sunrise because it means another day without you.

You will never stay up late talking to your friends or have a bonfire on a summer night.

You won't laugh until you cry again, or dance around and be silly.

You won't go on another adventure. You won't drive around under the moonlight and stars.

They'll miss you. They'll cry.

You won't fight with your siblings only to make up minutes later and laugh about it.

You won't get to interrogate your sister's fiancé when the time comes.

You won't be there to wipe away your mother's tears when she finds out that you're gone.

You won't be able to hug the ones that love you while they're waiting to wake up from the nightmare that had become their reality.

You won't be at your grandparents funeral, speaking about the good things they did in their life.

Instead, they will be at yours.

You won't find your purpose in life, the love of your life, get married or raise a family.

You won't celebrate another Christmas, Easter or birthday.

You won't turn another year older.

You will never see the places you've always dreamed of seeing.

You will not allow yourself the opportunity to get help.

This will be the last sunset you see.

You'll never see the sky change from a bright blue to purples, pinks, oranges, and yellows meshing together over the landscape again.

If the light has left your eyes and all you see is the darkness, know that it can get better. Let yourself get better.

This is what you will miss if you leave the world today.

This is who will care about you when you are gone.

You can change lives. But I hope it's not at the expense of yours.

We care. People care.

Don't let today be the end.

You don't have to live forever sad. You can be happy. It's not wrong to ask for help.

Thank you for staying. Thank you for fighting.

Suicide is a real problem that no one wants to talk about. I'm sure you're no different. But we need to talk about it. There is no difference between being suicidal and committing suicide. If someone tells you they want to kill themselves, do not think they won't do it. Do not just tell them, “Oh you'll be fine." Because when they aren't, you will wonder what you could have done to help. Sit with them however long you need to and tell them it will get better. Talk to them about their problems and tell them there is help. Be the help. Get them assistance. Remind them of all the things they will miss in life.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline — 1-800-273-8255

Cover Image Credit: Brittani Norman

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

Thanos Isn't The Real Villain, Overpopulation Is — He Actually Fixed The Problem

Overpopulation is a real world problem, and Thanos posed a solution.


If you've ever seen any "Avengers," "Guardians of the Galaxy," or Marvel superhero movies, you'll know who Thanos is. He's portrayed as the evil father of Gamora and his goal is clear: to wipe out half of the population. Many of us were not expecting him to actually succeed — because, in every other movie, the Avengers prevail. But in "Avengers: Infinity War," this was simply not the case. He successfully wiped out exactly half of the population and we watched some of our favorite characters like Black Panther, Vision, The Witch, and Groot disintegrate. But why was this such a bad thing?

Thanos' logic isn't really off — overpopulation has been a real-world problem for years now, with the rate growing at two percent per year. Even though this doesn't sound like a lot, it's faster than any other time period in history. This means that death rates either need to go up, or the birth rate needs to decrease.

According to the World Population Census, in 2015 there were approximately 7.2 billion people in the world. But in 2016, it was approximately 7.3 billion. In just a year, a little more than 100 million people were born. At this rate, overpopulation will affect the amount of food available, poverty rates, and air quality. With so many people continuously being born, factories are going to be forced to produce more products, releasing more CO2. Poverty rates will rise because there won't be many jobs available so people won't be able to afford much. While this sounds like a very grave diagnosis, Thanos found a solution to this in the "Avengers: Infinity War" film. By collecting the infinity stones of mind, power, reality, soul, space, and time, he succeeded in fixing this overpopulation problem — that is a serious problem today.

Since infinity stones, unfortunately, don't exist, what can we do to prevent overpopulating our beautiful planet? The answer may lie in finding more effective ways to use our natural resources better, or it may not, we have no way to know for sure. Maybe the Earth can hold more than eight billion people and still maintain other species. While we may never be able to accurately predict what could happen, we know that overpopulation is eventually inevitable. So far, there isn't an answer to solve this issue either, which may sound like a very depressing fact, but it's true. Multiple theories have been suggested but, none have been enacted. "Avengers: Infinity War" was a cinematic wake-up call, and proves that maybe Thanos isn't so crazy after all. While infinity stones would be a great answer to this problem, they don't exist. So, in the wise words of Tony Stark, " Let's do something insane — let's save the world."

Related Content

Facebook Comments