Anam Tanoli's death proves we still don't know how to talk about depression

Updated 08 Sep, 2018 03:39pm

Images Staff

Momina Mustehsan was bashed after posting this photo online. Isn't this exactly the kind of hate we're trying to stop?

Young model Anum Tanoli's death in Lahore last week sparked conversations about depression and suicide, with many prominent personalities stepping forward to talk about what has long been considered a taboo subject in Pakistani culture.

However, even though social media has democratised access to information, some reactions to Anum Tanoli's death and the conversations that followed make it clear that when it comes to talking about mental health, we still have a long way to go.

In case you find yourself in doubt, refer to what's below.

Depression doesn't wear one face. Don't judge people who express themselves differently than you

As news of Anam Tanoli's death spread, many took to social media to express disbelief that someone who appeared to be so energetic and forward-looking on their social media account could actually suffer from depression.

One of the most important lessons we can internalise is that a person's social media presence should NOT be taken as an indicator of their mental health, and that 'liking' a picture on social media is not the same as calling a friend to check up on them.

Similarly, we should be careful to make allowances for how people choose to talk about their depression online, as every person who goes through depression is living an experience unique to them, and should have the freedom to express themselves as they'd like to.

In the days that followed Anam Tanoli's demise, singer Momina Mustehsan posted a photograph of herself on Instagram, saying, "This is a picture of me from when I was going through turmoil not very long ago. It happens to the best of us. Mental health is just as important as physical health, and we all hit points in our lives sometimes when all seems to be falling out of our control."

She received criticism for the photo from stylist Anaum Hammad, who accused Momina of "misrepresenting depression" and being "irresponsible." Others jumped in to criticise what they called a 'pretty, sad girl aesthetic.'

While depression should definitely not be romanticised or fetishised, we believe Momina Mustehsan's post wasn't crossing that line. Momina Mustehsan has been using her platform to draw attention to mental health problems since last year, and it's an effort that will probably do more good than harm.

We won't gain anything in the fight against suicide and depression if we attack each other for how we choose to represent our individual experiences of the disease.

As Momina pointed out in a follow-up post: "The credibility of someone’s pain/turmoil isn’t for you to judge. As @marixm_g99 commented, “The aim is to de-stigmatize, not compete in who’s the better depression representative.""

2) Stop pitching religion as a treatment for depression

We see so many posts on various social media platforms about people struggling with mental health issues and a lot of comments advising them to turn to religion.

While faith, prayer, family and friends can help as a secondary support mechanism, it is dangerous to imply that prayer and faith are treatments for mental health disorders. They are not. Mental illnesses are as real as physical ailments so we must make it acceptable for people to seek professional and medical help when they are going through a troubling time.

Advocating prayer as a treatment may discourage people from getting therapy or other measures and could lead to them harming themselves.

Even people who commit suicide aren’t spared the self-righteousness; the remarks will now focus on how it’s haram in Islam and that person is going to hell. One lady actually commented saying that murder is better than suicide because at least that way you're able to repent.

Every religion in the world teaches you to be a empathetic, compassionate human being first but people conveniently forget that.

3) Don't spread misinformation about a deceased person's life

A person's suicide often leaves many unanswered questions, but we shouldn't be grasping at straws to answer them.

After news of Anam Tanoli's passing surfaced, many linked her death to depression (due to hearsay that she set an appointment with her therapist hours before taking her life) and then her depression to cyber-bullying simply because she participated in an anti-bullying campaign and talked about her own experiences in one Instagram post.

Just like we wait for official statements from the hospitals and police to declare a person's death a suicide, we should refrain from inferring the reasons behind someone's taking of their life.

4) If you're a brand, be extra sensitive about the work of an artist lost to suicide

Because depression is a trending topic, it's easy for brands to cross the line from socially aware messaging to a media campaign that's considered exploitative. This also complicates how brands can use a deceased artist's work.

When Saira Rizwan and 9Lines paid tribute to Anam Tanoli on Instagram, they did so with personal notes addressed to her. No one batted an eyelid. When Generation announced that they are dedicating their upcoming collection 'Bangkok High' to Tanoli (who modelled for the same), people felt there was a problem.

When Saira Rizwan and 9Lines paid tribute to Anam Tanoli on Instagram, they did so with personal notes addressed to her. No one batted an eyelid
When Saira Rizwan and 9Lines paid tribute to Anam Tanoli on Instagram, they did so with personal notes addressed to her. No one batted an eyelid

Because when images from Bangkok High's shoot were released on Instagram, it was only the first image that was captioned with a tribute to her and the rest appeared as only being used for advertising. The backlash raises the question whether an artist's final work can be used commercially and there's a long line of posthumous releases that tell us they can. But the sensitivity with which they are used is key.

In Generation's case, a small editorial oversight resulted in them wiping off the campaign from their Instagram feed. If their dedication was featured in every image, perhaps their Instagram audience would have received the intended context of each image.

When talking about a celebrity who's suffered from depression or succumbed to it, a brand can commemorate that person's legacy or express support to others battling the disease. But they have to stop there. "Tributes" that are clubbed with the usual elements from a brand's promotional strategy can leave a bad taste in the mouth. No brand should need a reminder that that's no way to boost sales.