bollywood-mental illness collage

People who suffer from mental disorders or mental illness are an integral part of our society. They are called by many names – mentally challenged, ‘special’, differently abled and a variety of other names – some of them demeaning. Though known more for its mainstream image, Bollywood has over the years seen many actors playing characters who suffered from mental illnesses. On World Mental Health Day we shed light on some of the more common mental diseases portrayed by B-town characters:


barfiAUTISM (Barfi!) :

The recent blockbuster Barfi! saw Priyanka Chopra as a young girl suffering from Autism. Autism affects about 1-2 people per 1,000. It is a disorder of neural development and is usually first noticed in children from the age of three. It is characterized by impaired social interaction, communication and restricted repetitive behaviour.

How autism functions is by altering the way the child processes the information he/she receives. This is usually a mismatch of the nerve cells and synapses and how they are organized. It is a part of the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). The factors that cause this disorder are not yet known but can be associated with some birth defects.

This condition has seen a rise in the past few years, mainly thought to be due to the fact that diagnostic techniques are improving, helping more children to be correctly diagnosed.

Early indicators of the disorder are:

  • The baby does not start to babble or point by the time they are one year old
  • No single words by 16 months (for ex: mamma, daddy etc.) or two word phrases by age 2
  • Does not respond to his/her name
  • Loss of language and failure to mix with people
  • Poor eye contact
  • Repetitive and compulsive lining up of toys of other objects
  • He/she does not smile or have social contact

Indicators later in life:

  • Impaired ability to interact with peers
  • Absence of imaginative or social play
  • Repetitive or unusual use of language
  • Preoccupation with certain objects or things.
  • Inflexibility and adhering to a fixed routine or ritual

 SRKAsperger’s Syndrome (My Name Is Khan)

In the movie ‘My name is Khan’ Shahrukh Khan was a man afflicted with Asperger’s syndrome. He received wide acclaim for his accurate portrayal of the character, and is said to have done a lot of research on the topic.

Asperger syndrome (AS), also known as Asperger’s syndrome or Asperger disorder, can be classified as an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This condition is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests. Unlike other autism spectrum disorders patients suffering from this disorder show a better development of linguistic and cognitive development. A common symptom seen in people with Asperger’s syndrome is clumsiness, unusual use of language and trouble handling social situations.

BlackAlzheimer’s (Black and U me Aur Hum)

In the movies ‘U me aur hum’ and ‘Black’, Ajay Devgan and Amitabh Bachchan portray men suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Although the movies discussed the character in detail the condition was not the central theme of the movie. None the less, Alzheimer’s got the much needed limelight.

 Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia. There is no cure for the disease, which worsens as it progresses, and eventually leads to death. The cause and progression of Alzheimer’s disease are not well understood but research indicates that the disease is associated with plaques and tangles in the brain. Although the condition progresses differently for different patients there are some common symptoms. Usually some early symptoms are mistakenly termed as ‘age-related’ or due to stress, but the most glaring indicator is difficulty in remembering recent events. The common tests for the condition are to evaluate behaviour and thinking abilities and a brain scan. As the condition progresses the patient exhibits symptoms such as confusion, irritability, aggression, mood swings, trouble speaking and long term memory loss.

kareena-smoking Bipolar Disorder (Heroine)

The recent movie Heroine also had leading lady Kareena Kapoor suffer from Bipolar disorder. Although this movie does not focus on her illness and more on how the illness caused the downfall of her career, it still helped in bringing the condition and its management to the forefront. Let’s find out what Bipolar disorder actually is.

Bipolar disorder or bipolar affective disorder also called manic-depressive disorder. It is a mood disorder, and people usually experience disruptive mood swings that range from a frenzied state known as mania to depression. These extreme mood swings are separated by a ‘normal phase’ as well. Although in some individuals, depression and mania may rapidly alternate, which is known as rapid cycling. Severe manic episodes can sometimes lead to such psychotic symptoms as delusions and hallucinations. The prevalence of this condition is the same in men and women, and across all ethnic groups.

Read more about causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of bipoalar disorder.

terenaamSchizophrenia (Tere Naam)

Actor Salman Khan did one of his most widely acclaimed roles in the movie ‘Tere Naam’. In the movie he essayed the role of a schizophrenic. His interpretation of the condition was accurate, but not all schizophrenics have to be in an asylum! 

Schizophrenia is a condition that affects the patient by young adulthood and continues till old age, in almost all cases. It is a mental disorder that is characterized by breakdown of thoughts and poor social responsiveness. People with schizophrenia are likely to have additional conditions, including major depression and anxiety disorders. Almost 50% of the patients have a substance abuse problem. They experience social problems, such as long-term unemployment, poverty and homelessness. The most common symptoms that patients have are auditory hallucinations, paranoid behaviour, delusions, and disorder in speech and thinking. As this condition progresses it leads to social degradation or isolation. A diagnosis is usually based on observed behaviour and patients reports.

As commonly thought schizophrenia does not imply a split personality, or a multiple personality disorder, rather, the term Schizophrenia means a ‘splitting of mental functions’, so named because of what the patient presents.

Read more about causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of schizophrenia.

tare zameen parDyslexia (Tare Zameen Par)

The movie ‘Tare Zameen Par’ was a huge hit due to its tear jerking portrayal of a child battling Dyslexia. The movie shows how Darsheel Safary, the protagonist of the movie, struggles with the ridicule he faces for behaving in a manner completely normal to him.

Dyslexia , is also commonly known as Developmental reading disorder (DRD). It occurs when there is a problem in the Wernicke’s area, the lobe of the brain that helps to interpret language. Usually misdiagnosed as a vision problem, this condition is commonly misdiagnosed. It is a specific information processing problem that does not make the person’s intelligence decrease in any way. Children and individuals with this condition usually have normal to above average IQ. They are capable of grasping and solving the most complex problems. Dyslexic children need special care and attention, with regards to treating them and not making them feel left out. DRD may appear in combination with developmental writing disorder and developmental arithmetic disorder. Since all of these involve using symbols to convey information it is sometime hard for the patient to grasp. DRD is known to often run in the family.

In general, symptoms of DRD may include:

  • Difficulty determining the meaning of a simple sentence
  • Difficulty learning to recognize written words

Mental retardation (Koi Mil Gaya)

Koi Mil GayaThe movie revolved around a boy living and coping with mental retardation. Hrithik Roshan portrays the role of the man with panache, and does justice to his role as a mentally challenged boy. So what is mental retardation?

 Mental retardation refers to a condition which appears before adulthood. The characteristic symptoms of the condition are significantly impaired cognitive functioning and deficits in two or more adaptive behaviours. 

 Most people who suffer from this condition do not show any external symptoms. So the ‘typical appearance’ thought to be the landmark of this condition is no longer true.

Usually babies that are mentally retarded learn to sit up, crawl or walk later than their counterparts. Both adults and children with mental retardation may also exhibit some or all of the following symptoms: 

  • Delays in speaking (oral language development)
  • Deficits in learning and memory skills
  • Lack of social inhibition
  • Difficulty with solving  problem
  • Delays in the development of adaptive behaviors such as self-help or self-care skills

Mental retardation is no longer the politically correct term to be used for this condition, the term intellectual disability or intellectually challenged is now preferred.

Major depressive disorder (DEVDAS)

The movie Devdas has Shahrukh Khan depict a lovelorn, depressed and alcoholic man, who eventually dies of liver cirrhosis.

Major depressive disorder (MDD) or clinical depression is sadly a mental disorder which isn’t taken very seriously. The condition leads the person to believe that life is not worth living. A constant sense of doom surrounds the people suffering from this condition.

Clinically this condition is usually diagnosed by the patient’s own experiences and mental ability tests. The condition usually affects a person’s family and interpersonal relationships, it disrupts work and school life, sleeping and eating habits and the overall health of the person. It usually impacts the person’s wellbeing and may lead to the person to substance abuse and more often than not is linked with suicidal tendencies. Research suggests that the condition can be compared to chronic medical conditions such as diabetes.

Read more about causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of depression.

Mental illness is not a bane or something to hide from; confronting and solving the problem is sometimes simpler that hiding or not facing the problem head on.

Always remember problems are not stop signs they are guidelines- Robert H. Schuller 

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