It has been a month since Indian actor Sushant Singh Rajput died by suicide, and while the wound is still fresh in many ways, it is important to start a conversation about the mental health of South Asian men.
Sushant’s tragic passing, and the conversations that followed in the Bollywood industry focused on the difficulties of his career, which included the nepotism of the industry and his “outsider” status.
In the weeks after his death, it was revealed that he had been diagnosed with clinical depression, the revelation being brought forward in tabloids as a salacious detail to a news story, and not as a matter of his lived reality, and that of many others living with depression.
The ensuing conversations did not, however, deeply interrogate the way we hold space for South Asian men and their mental health -- because for the most part, I’m realizing that we don’t.
From my experience, there is a lack of openness regarding mental health in South Asian homes, and even further stigma surrounding this topic for men.
South Asian men, particularly in film and TV, but also even in the everyday, are expected to live up to a hyper-masculine image of a strong male figure, both in physical stature, and also emotionally, that shoulders the burdens of his entire household.
These “strong” figures are the ones that work long hours, who play heroes on our TV screens and in our everyday lives, without any word of the weights on their own shoulders and the emotional toll of always needing to have on a brave face.
I think of how the immigrant stories of many South Asian men center around their sacrifice and hard work, along with being a stoic figure that rarely shows outward emotion, but is expected to put out many fires around them.
I also think of how this silent pain is passed down into our South Asian brothers, and stifled by the need to live up to a legacy where asking for help wasn’t an option.
Yet the only emotion that South Asian men are given license to feel is rage.
The only release that is ever warranted, is the feeling of anger, that leaves the bystanders to pick up the pieces.
Regardless of whether the pain is loud or silent, there is a lot of hurt in our communities that needs to be given space to breathe.
Taboos surrounding therapy or asking for help still exist in our community, acting as a barrier for people wanting to reach out despite the plethora of available support around them.
I see women and girls, myself included, who are trying to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma by going to therapy, but this conversation is met with hushed conversations behind closed doors for many men in our community.
The tragic death of Sushant Singh Rajput stings just as much even a month later, and it hurts even more when we think of how many of our fathers and brothers are sitting with a silent pain they may think they can never name aloud.
Since so many South Asian cultures take pride in strength and honour, it absolutely has to be said that asking for help is not weakness.
Reaching out is not weakness.
Mental illness is not weakness.
More information on crisis and suicide supports in Canada can be found here.