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Padukone says India ‘long way’ from ending mental illness stigma

NEW DELHI: Bollywood superstar Deepika Padukone called on Friday for bolder efforts by Indians to end the stigma surrounding mental illness.

“We have a long way to go,” said the actress, who went public about her struggle with depression in 2015 and won praise for her campaign to spark public discourse on mental health in a country that has traditionally considered such illnesses taboo.

The 32-year-old, who starred in the hits “Padmaavat” and “xXx: Return of Xander Cage” opposite Vin Diesel, founded the Live Laugh Love Foundation to create awareness about mental health.

The charity on Friday launched the results of a survey it conducted in eight Indian cities, including New Delhi and Mumbai, which showed nearly half of all Indians held prejudices against people with mental illnesses.

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While a little more than half expressed some fear towards mentally unhealthy people, with many preferring they be ostracised, over three-fourths showed sympathy.

Fifty-one percent said they would seek professional help if they suffered from a mental illness, signalling a shift in the fear and shame usually attached to it in India.

“What gives us immense satisfaction is knowing that the stigma built around mental illness over the years is now slowly reducing,” Padukone said in New Delhi.

“We have come a long way in the last three years, there is increased… awareness, but I still think we have a long way to go.”

More than 50 million Indians suffered from depression and over 30 million from anxiety disorders in 2015, a World Health Organization (WHO) study released last year said.

In December, India’s president warned that the country of 1.3 billion people faces “a possible mental health epidemic” while releasing a report that found 10% of Indians suffered from at least one mental illness.

India has the highest number of suicides in South Asia after Sri Lanka, according to the WHO.

“(We need) to contribute towards building a more caring and inclusive society where those suffering from mental illnesses have a society that they can trust and rely on,” Padukone said.

“India needs it and the world needs it now more than ever before.”

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