#CosmoExclusive: Richa Chadha Opens Up About Struggling With an Eating Disorder Called Bulimia

Mental health. Can we talk about it, please?

According to a 2015 WHO study, titled Depression And Other Common Mental Disorders, over 5 crore Indians suffer from depression and over 3 crore have anxiety disorders. Another research by National Mental Health Survey states that over 15 crore people across India are in need of mental health care interventions—a staggering figure! Statistics speak louder than words. Mental disorders are a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease. And even more so in India, given the stigma surrounding it. As a nation, we are under-equipped to handle mental health issues on such a large scale. “Currently, we have only 3,500 psychiatrists for millions of Indians suffering from mental illness. India specifically has over 300% shortage of psychologists. Until now, less than 1-2% of the health budget has been dedicated to mental health, in comparison to 10-12% in other countries,” says Dr Samir Parikh, Director, Department of Mental Health & Behavioural Sciences at Fortis Healthcare.

But the bigger problem might be that we simply don’t want to talk about mental health, preferring to brush issues like anxiety, depression, and panic attacks under the ‘I’m okay’ carpet. Not only does that decrease the quality of life, but the reason it’s critical to talk about mental health is because it can save lives! “Spreading awareness about the importance of psychological health, just like physical health, will help reduce the stigma and the ignorance towards it,” says Delhi-based psychologist Harsheen K Arora.

By sharing the story of her struggled with bulimia, Richa Chadha is one of the women helping us lift the veil and speak about mental health candidly.

“Till the time I was living in Delhi with my parents, I always felt beautiful and intelligent. It was only when I became an actor that I felt my confidence evaporate. Self-doubt exists in everyone’s minds, but I do feel actors have it a lot worse. We deal with rejection on so many levels on a daily basis. While we deal with civilian issues (yes, that’s what I call people that don’t work in showbiz), we also have to listen to, in my cheeky, humble opinion,
people that aren’t so blessed themselves tell you that you are very unsuitable looking. I was told I should gain weight, then lose weight, fix my nose and inflate my lips, get a boob job, lose the puppy fat, grow my hair out, get highlights, squat for a bigger booty, run in heels, wear Spanx, pout while talking, and listen attentively.

I crumbled under the pressure like a wrecking ball had hit me. And that’s when I ‘got acquainted’ with bulimia. It’s a condition when you consistently hate what you look like, and compulsively induce vomiting or rely on
laxatives to avoid weight gain. It’s often followed up with binge-eating. Bulimia stems from general anxiety and sadness, and basically believing that you are unworthy. Eating disorders are the best kept secret of showbiz...and bulimia is just one of the several disorders that exist.

I hated myself...I gained weight in a strange way and felt like a failure. In an industry where competition is brutal and unending, it gets difficult to find relevant work. Different people deal with the pressure differently. Depression, mood-swings, delusional behaviour, broken relationships are not that uncommon. Sadly, neither is suicide as we have seen. But the solution lies in initiating conversations.

I’m okay with talking about it because I don’t want others to go through what I did. I got over it through the support of my loved ones. My solution: do not give a damn to such remarks, and lose weight to be healthy, not skinny. It’s only then you’ll develop confidence that’s skin-deep, and help you take on the world head-on.”