Deepika Padukone: India 'long way' from ending mental illness stigma

Bollywood superstar Deepika Padukone called for bolder efforts by Indians to end the stigma surrounding mental illness.

"We have a long way to go," said Padukone, 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 xXx: Return of Xander Cage, founded the Live Laugh Love Foundation to create awareness about mental health.

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

Three out of five of the 3,556 people interviewed for the study referred to the mentally ill using terms such as "retard", "crazy" or "stupid".

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

Fifty-one per cent said they would seek professional help if they suffered from a mental illness, signalling a shift in the fear and shame usually attached with 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 more than 30 million from anxiety disorders in 2015, a World Health Organisation study released last year said.

In December, Indian President Ram Nath Kovind warned that the country of 1.3 billion people faces "a possible mental health epidemic" while releasing a report that found 10 per cent of Indians suffered from at least one mental illness.

India has the highest number of suicides in South Asia after Sri Lanka, said the WHO. - AFP