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Late last month, Danish Sait, the actor, comic and radio host best known for his hilarious prank calls on radio and his role in and as Humble Politician Nograj, posted on Facebook about his struggle with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. “My anxiety levels shot off the roof,” he wrote, adding “I almost wanted to end my life”. Sait, who admitted to playing “a brick game for hours” to take his mind off the stress, has since taken help from doctors.

However, he is not alone. Today, internet news and entertainment have surpassed the times of solitary bloggers/aspiring actors who did everything on their computers. Whether it is news writing or production of videos and shows, the business of creating original content is currently run by conglomerates. Globally, Netflix intends to spend $8 billion and Amazon, $4.5 billion; tech giant Apple has made its foray into original content, with plans to spend $1 billion, and reportedly greenlighting nine new shows. Buzzfeed, the international content giant, has over $493 million in funding to date. Even in India, news and digital content start-ups are pulling funding in millions — Scoopwhoop has raised $5 million, PocketAces $3 million and PopXO a whopping $12.4 million.

Race to be first

These sites employ people under the age of 35, who view internet entertainment and news as legitimate career options. After all, success holds rich rewards, from Venture Capital funding to stand-up comedy specials to roles in mainstream Bollywood films. However, this success demands a rather heavy price. The sites operate in a hyper competitive environment, which only values ‘likes’ and ‘shares’, and must jostle for views on social media platforms that employ mysterious algorithms to determine visibility. There is a constant race to be the ‘first’ to break a story — Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas’ engagement, for example, saw the entire team at BuzzFeed India stop what they were doing, to come together as a team to get the story out. This need to be ‘first’ translates to impossible deadlines and being tuned into social media at all times.

But even these challenges pale in comparison to capturing the attention of an increasingly vocal (and sometimes vile) audience. An absurdly intense, personal dislike for people who do not align with public sentiments culminate in trolling. “People don’t differentiate between a person and a news organisation,” says Dhanya Rajendran, editor-in-chief of TheNewsMinute, a popular internet-based news website. She says that going through agitated comments on Twitter can be draining, which is why she has deleted the app from her phone and does not spend more than 30 minutes a day on the platform. “Once I said something about a film, and the actor’s fans took it personally and trolled me for days. I remember losing sleep, but now I can predict the patterns in which trolls operate and their predictability helps me cope,” she says.

Continuing the conversation

This pressure cooker environment, unsurprisingly, has repercussions on mental health, ranging from anxiety to burnout, and in extreme situations, suicide. Content maker BuzzFeed India frequently posts on mental health, and encourages contributors to speak up, stressing the need for conversation to remove the stigma. The staff also openly talk about their struggles with anxiety and depression on their social media handles.

Dr Sabina Rao, MD from Columbia Asia Hospital, Bengaluru, says that while anxiety and depression are two different conditions, “60% of the time, one leads to the other and vice versa”. Mental health disorders also manifest physically, adds Chennai-based psychiatrist, Dr Vijay Nagaswami, with aches and pains, hyperacidity, fatigue, lassitude and tremors being common symptoms. Unfortunately, despite the awareness of such issues, public discourse on depression is often correlated with merely ‘feeling sad’ and how people can snap out of it by ‘being positive’. While there may be no cure-all, Rao, who states that depression and anxiety are medical conditions, says they “can be set right with a combination of medicine and talk therapy”. She states that depression will be the biggest health issue in the next decade, noting a marked increase in the number of people between 25 and 45 years of age who are seeking therapy for mental health problems that have risen from workplace stress.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by Daily Report and is published from The Hindu.)


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