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Misrepresentation of Mental Health: Sushant Singh Rajput Case

The television news channels have grossly misrepresented and neglected the importance of mental healthcare of an individual and it is disappointing the way the conversation around mental health has unfolded in these prime time debates.

Credit: The Indian Express

Scrutinizing every other new possible piece of evidence has become the new hobby of mainstream television news channels. This 24x7 coverage of an individual’s personal life has ended up in trivializing mental healthcare in a country where awareness about the same is scarce. News channels started off with suggesting that the possible cause of death could have been a sensational murder but many of them have lately concluded that it must have been a murder.

News channels have unfortunately decided that they have to take charge of the investigation and keep coming up with ‘recent developments’ in the case. Quite recently, ABP News had conducted a ‘mock postmortem’ where people dressed up as doctors enacted the post mortem of Sushant’s dead body with a dummy figure or a doll. This voyeuristic representation was pathetic and brings forth certain questions regarding the dignity of an individual after their death. India Today disclosed personal WhatsApp chats of Rhea Chakraborty and called them ‘explosive’ while dissecting these chats closely. Confidential bank account statements and investments of the deceased have also been disclosed and discussed at length.

Navika Kumar and Rahul Shivshankar of Times Now played two videos of Sushant laughing and playing and asked, “Does he look like a guy suffering from depression?”. This suggestion implies that someone has to appear in a specific way to be suffering from depression or other mental health disorders.

Another debate had ensued after Sushant’s therapist Susan Walker in an interview publicly revealed the details of his bipolar disorder diagnosis. Therapists are not supposed to disclose the diagnosis of a patient without their consent and the Mental Healthcare Act of 2017 entails that clients can elect their own representative to consent. There are two special cases under which the details of the diagnosis or the medication be revealed which are in the case if the client is at risk such as in cases of extreme suicidal behaviour or if someone else is at risk such as in cases of homicidal behaviour. Nowhere does it mention in the Mental Healthcare Act that these rules of confidentiality cease to exist post the death of the individual.

Interestingly, WHO has issued a number of guidelines for reporting suicides which were totally ignored by these news channels. Some of these guidelines are that channels should refrain from speculation while reporting the suicide of a famous personality, avoid explicit description about the method as it can lead to cases of copycat suicides, avoid sensationalizing as it can trigger people suffering from mental health disorders, and exercise caution while using photos.

The Press Council of India also recommends certain guidelines which should be followed while reporting suicides. It is recommended that the statement “committed suicide’’ should be replaced with “died by suicide” as the former statement tends to criminalize the act which is already a criminal offence in the country. Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code criminalizes attempted suicide, while it is still in effect, the Mental Healthcare Act of 2017 has restricted its application. There have been a number of efforts to repeal the law by activists. Whereas news channels have been successfully building a narrative that people with ‘weak mind’ suffer from mental health disorders such as depression. This is worsening the stigma around mental health making it difficult for people to reach out for resources.

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