Stand-up comic Atul Khatri teams up with psychiatrist sister to create ‘mental health warriors’

December 20, 2018 01:33 am | Updated 07:33 am IST - Mumbai

Crowd puller:  Stand-up comic Atul Khatri and his sister, psychiatrist Anjali Chhabria, at a session.

Crowd puller: Stand-up comic Atul Khatri and his sister, psychiatrist Anjali Chhabria, at a session.

In order to spread awareness of depression and suicide, stand-up comic Atul Khatri and his sister, psychiatrist Anjali Chhabria, have begun an initiative to create ‘mental health warriors’ among the youth. The purpose is to educate youngsters to spot signs of depression in their friends and encourage them to seek help without feeling any stigma.

Mr. Khatri, a businessman-turned-stand-up comic, first went on stage in 2011, when he was 43 years old. He went on to become a popular icon in the stand-up comedy circuit and now regularly performs in India and abroad.

While Ms. Chhabria, whose book Death Is Not The Answer was published in 2016, has already been conducting such sessions for the last three years, Mr. Khatri got involved when he lost one of his friends around six months ago.

“I first thought he might have passed away due to a heart attack. It was only at his chautha ceremony that I learned that he had taken the extreme step and nobody could fathom why. I then read Ms. Chhabria’s book and learned that India is the suicide capital of the world, and that most suicides occur among people between the age group of 15 and 29,” Mr. Khatri said.

He then got in touch with Ms. Chhabria and expressed his desire to do his part to help, and they began talking about her sessions. Mr. Khatri realised that due to the stigma attached to depression, suicide and seeking psychiatric help, not many people turn up for her sessions. Mr. Khatri, who has a huge fan following, offered to act as the crowd puller as well as comic relief, which spawned the initiative, The Shrink And The Nut .

Mr. Khatri and Ms. Chhabria then tied up with the Rotary Club of Bombay Airport and the first session of The Shrink And The Nut was held at Rithumbara College in Juhu on October 3. The brother-sister duo held two more sessions at Bhatia College in Kandivali and will be holding the next session at IIT Mood Indigo festival on December 27.

The session is opened by Mr. Khatri who breaks the ice with his jokes before moving on to the next phase, which consists of him asking questions to Ms. Chhabria.

“The questions are phrased in layman’s words so that everyone can understand them, and all throughout, Mr. Khatri keeps cracking jokes to keep the atmosphere light. We observed that kids started sharing their experiences. Students actually shared how they attempted suicide once, about their parents’ divorce, their love affairs. At the last session, a student also opened up and spoke about his addiction to pornography,” Ms. Chhabria said.

The sessions also educate students about the signs of depression and urge them to watch out for them, so that they can help their friends in time. “At one of our sessions, a girl told us how she had been depressed for several months. She broke down while narrating her experience and three of her friends, who would always hang out with her, were shocked, and said they had no idea what she was going through,” Mr. Khatri said.

For the brother-sister duo, the only way to go is forward. “There are around 6,000 registered psychiatrists in India, which has a reported rate of 16 suicides every day. There is a dire need to provide qualified help to all those who need it,” Ms. Chhabria said.

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