Most famous for being Alia Bhatt’s sister or Mahesh Bhatt and Soni Razdan’s daughter, Shaheen Bhatt grew up amidst all the drama of Bollywood. But she has also shouldered all its sordid secrets through her own trajectory of pain and personal growth. She talks to us about her tryst with depression, which led her to write a book I’ve Never Be (Un)Happier (Penguin India), and her Instagram campaign to spread awareness about mental health.
When and how did you first realise you were undergoing depression?
I was 12 years old when I first experienced depression, but I didn’t realise what it was. Even though the word depression was a part of my vocabulary, I didn’t associate it with myself. I just thought that I was “weird” and different from everyone, because I couldn’t be happy the way everyone else seemed to be. It wasn’t until I was 18 that I finally went to a psychiatrist and was told I was dealing with clinical depression.
What do you think led you to the state when you even tried to attempt suicide?
By then, I had spent almost five years dealing with depression on my own. I was also going through all the mental and emotional upheavals that come with being a teenager. I was convinced at one point that the empty, hollow, constant pain I was feeling was never going to end. I was convinced that the only way out for me was to stop being here.
The moment I realised this was something out of my control, I told my mother and she took me to a psychiatrist. Then on, I started medication and went to see a counsellor once a week. I’ve been on medication on and off for the past 15 years, and I find that the combination of that with talk therapy really helps me. My family has been my biggest support – they always make sure I have a safe and loving space to come back to.
How did you finally overcome it?
Getting through chronic depression has involved a lot of trial and error for me. It hasn’t gone away completely – it comes back from time to time at varying degrees. So, I keep my medication going when I need it and I make sure I talk to my therapist when I have things to work through. I’ve figured out my triggers and I’m in a place where I can manage my symptoms a lot better than I could earlier.
Was writing your book, in a sense, a process of catharsis for you?
I never set out to write this book. It just sort of happened. When I opened up about my depression on social media a few years ago, the responses I received were very positive, and many people shared their own stories with me. I realised then that this is something so many of us are dealing with. When Penguin approached me to write about my experiences, I felt I almost needed to say yes. Writing this book was both difficult and very rewarding. It was hard delving back into painful past memories. But in the end, it has given me a deep understanding of myself. I’ve also made profound connections with people as a result of writing this.
How hard was it to write about your dad’s addiction with alcohol, your troubles with food and alcohol as well as your insecurities to do with Alia’s fame?
To be honest, I didn’t find any of that hard. A certain emotional transparency is something we’ve been raised with, and I didn’t see the point of writing about my experiences in half measures. All these things are a part of who I am, and I wanted to be as open about that as I could. My mom and sister Alia are my best friends and they’re how I get by on a day-to-day basis.
How has this incident in your life changed you as a person?
Depression has changed me in so many ways. It has given me a profound sense of empathy, which I think is one of my biggest strengths. I understand people a lot more because of it. I make deeper connections with people. It has also given me an immense amount of gratitude for the good things in my life. I appreciate the good things so much more, because I know what it’s like to feel your worst.
Tell us more about your Instagram campaign Here Comes the Sun, and the impact it has brought about.
Here Comes the Sun is an online awareness campaign that I started in October last year on World Mental Health Day. With it, we want to spread awareness and disseminate as much information as we can, including lists of psychiatrists and counselors. If I had had access to information in a way that I understood when I was younger, I would have been a lot further along in my treatment by now.
What would be your advice to young people who are going through depression?
Educate yourself as much as you can. The more you know about what you’re dealing with the better. If counseling is an option for you, go and talk to a therapist because they are best equipped to guide you on what you need. But also remember that finding the right counselor might take some time. If therapy is not an option, talk to someone you trust about what you’re going through. Don’t underestimate the power of simply talking to someone about what you’re going through.First published in eShe magazine