BENGALURU: I take umbrage to people calling me brave when I talk about depression,” says Shaheen Bhatt, who was in town this weekend for the Under 25 Summit. Bhatt, who launched her memoir, I’ve Never Been (Un)Happier late last year, was part of a session on happiness and mental health.
“I’m not brave, I’m honest. Calling me the former romanticises the mental condition and makes it seem like it is a desirable place to be in,” she tells CE. Bhatt, the daughter of director Mahesh Bhatt and sister of actor Alia Bhatt, was diagnosed with depression at the age of 18, after having lived with it for five years. Her first inclination of the condition came when she was 12, and did not have internet with access to unlimited information. “I thought there was something wrong with me,” she says, adding that the idea for a book about her experience with mental illness came from an Instagram post she made in 2016. It read, “I say I live with depression rather than I struggle with it because for me (and I speak only for myself here) I don’t see why it has to be a struggle.” Today, the post has over 8,000 likes. “If a social media post can have that much reach, a book can only travel further. I was also done hiding and wanted to talk about it to let it out,” she explains.
The paperback, which has references to journal entries Bhatt made through childhood, led her through a journey that was both unpleasant and rewarding. “Just coming out of hiding made a difference to the quality of life I am living. I am more authentic now,” she says, adding that her mother, Soni Razdan, was the one who pushed her to seek help even when she didn’t know that her daughter was living with depression. But the person Bhatt connected to most was her father, who she says dealt with experiences of depression his whole life. “He’s here today to watch me speak too,” she adds.
While she agrees that the conversation around mental health has improved in India, work still remains to be done. “It is a circular conversation. We need to focus on the science and causes of depression,” she says, adding that the best way to define her identity would be to call herself a “work in progress.” Says Bhatt, “I’m living a delayed adolescence. I would have been figuring out these things by 16 but I was too focused on the bad things I was feeling. So I’m learning who I am for the first time now.”
Recently, American comedian Mindy Kaling took to social media to talk about Bhatt. “In her newly released book I’ve Never Been (Un)Happier, Shaheen embodies courage, vulnerability and power as she shares her deeply personal experiences living with depression,” read Kaling’s post, which was also liked by actor Jennifer Aniston. Bhatt says, “Even if it is just for three seconds, Jennifer Aniston knew that I existed and that’s good enough for me.”