Another day, another death, another chance to be shocked and another chance to move on.
On 27 December 2019, news broke that Indian TV actor and fitness enthusiast Kushal Punjabi was found dead in his home. A death by suicide. Slowly, the people around him went from the stage of utter disbelief to shock as they couldn’t accept what had just happened. His colleagues immediately got on social media and tried to confirm the heart-breaking news. “Is this a stupid joke?” wrote one of his colleagues, Shehnaz Treasury while others wished him the best in his afterlife and said they will miss him.
As it became clear that Kushal’s death was due to suicide, a hunt started. A hunt that follows every suicide. The ‘reason’ hunt.
Why would he do that?
What made him take this step?
‘Kushal Punjabi death reason’ and ‘Kushal Punjabi suicide reason’ quickly became highly searched terms on Google and the hunt was well and truly on its way. “It must have been his wife’s fault!!” speculated some people once it came out that the couple was going through a tough separation with their son involved. As the hunt for the reason went on, the underlying issue was ignored once again.
With the posts that came out in his memory from his close friends, it became clear that no one really knew what was going on with Kushal Punjabi and how much of an effect it had had on him. It is unclear whether he had shared his personal pain with many, if any, one of his friends. He suffered in silence for a long time. Unfortunately, he was not the only one going through the same pain.
Suicide Among Men: Kushal Punjabi Is Not Alone
At any given time, there is at least one person who dies by suicide every 40 seconds. In India, that rate is a death by suicide every 2 minutes. Most of these, predominantly men. Speaking from both personal experience as well as the research work I have studied, men don’t feel comfortable in sharing their emotions. Whether it is happiness or sadness. The moment that a guy does feel the need to speak out and seek some help, he is bogged down with the expectations of the people around him.
“You need to take care of your family. You can’t waste your time being depressed on such things.”
“People have it far worse. You need to man up and get over it.”
“If you do something to yourself, you will lose all my respect. What kind of a coward leaves their own kids behind?”
These are some of the things that are said to men at times when they try to share their problems.
No problem is deemed big enough until it takes a life. And when it does, we ask it retrospect, “How could I have not seen this?”
Some people continue to live in denial and form reactionary beliefs to suspend the sense of unease they get when they think that someone close to them was in so much psychological pain that death seemed a better option than anything else.
In recent times, things have been changing though. Men all around the globe have been finding the courage to take steps to take care of their mental health. As you shall read now,
Messages of Hope
Late 2019 was a time when a couple of athletes decided to open up about their personal life and share what they had been going through.
Jesse Lingard, an English footballer playing for Manchester United opened up about the struggles in his family and how he was having to take care of his whole family including two young siblings, his daughter, his mother as well as his grandparents. All this pressure had invariably had an effect on his performance. Lingard didn’t record a single Premier League goal or assist throughout 2019 and it was only when the pressure seemed too much to handle that he opened up to his manager.
‘I wasn’t performing and he was on me all the time. He wanted more from me,’ Lingard told Sportsmail this week. ‘So I felt it was best to get everything off my chest and tell him why my head wasn’t right. So I knocked on his door. You can read the full exclusive piece here
Despite a string of poor performances, when this news broke, people came out in support of him. Not just fellow footballers but fans from other teams. And this happened on Twitter. And not just any twitter community but the ‘Football Twitter’ community which is notorious for being highly toxic and negative for those who don’t perform to the fans’ expectations.
People (read men) around the globe could resonate with what Jesse was saying and understood the sort of pressure that comes with having to take care of a family while performing at the highest level.
Glenn Maxwell, an Australian cricketer also decided to take a short break from his cricket career to deal with his mental health struggles.
Now this is a big story for anyone who follows cricket. Maxwell is one of the most destructive Australian players and to hear him having to take a break to focus on his mental health surprised many people. But, it was a happy surprise for many. Soon after his story, many other cricketing legends also came out in support of him and appreciating his courage to take this step. This list included Brian Lara, Virat Kohli, Justin Langer and so many others.
There was surprise to see such a successful individual struggle with mental distress but there was a sense of relief among people as well. It was as if they were glad that it had been caught in time, that Maxwell had stopped himself before it got any worse. Something that so many other men are unable to do.
These stories are not limited to international cricketers only. Aryaman Birla, an Indian cricketer also decided to take a break from his profession to cope with severe anxiety.
Do you see the comments next to it? Do you see how no one is telling him to man up or be stronger? Change is palpable. Change is visible. People are more understanding now than they were. Mostly because, in my opinion, people understand what it is like or at least have an inkling to undergo psychological distress.
We Need to Speak Out & We Need to Listen
I always stress on the fact that men need to speak up on their emotional struggles. They need to share what they are thinking and feeling in a healthy manner instead of waiting to burst out when things get out of hand. Maxwell, Aryaman and Lingard are going to be role models for many people around the world without even knowing it.
There will be a guy somewhere saying, “Alright, they go through this too. And people are actually accepting of the struggles that I face. Maybe I should talk to someone about this too.” And that is what we all need to do.
Along with it we also need to listen. Not to advice someone, not to find the ‘reason’ of their struggles but just to listen. With empathy.
For so many men, including Kushal Punjabi, this didn’t seem like an option. And that is not completely their fault. For so many men, there is no ray of hope and no sense of purpose. For them, we need to listen and encourage them to speak out. I was one of those guys around 3 years back. Thankfully, I managed to share my feelings and got the support from people around me that I needed. We need to be doing that for everyone.
We need to stop looking for ‘reasons’ and start listening with compassion. Otherwise, this will just go on for a long time. There will continue to be deaths, we will continue to be shocked temporarily and then we will move on. Again.
In Memory of Kushal Punjabi (1977-2019)