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Darasing Khurana’s focus is to make therapy accessible and affordable


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ACTOR Darasing Khurana said the death of his close friend, fellow actor Sushant Singh Rajput in June 2020, led him to become a mental health campaigner.

Khurana, 32, has been named the Commonwealth Year of Youth Champion, with his role focusing on mental health initiatives. He founded the Pause. Breathe.Talk Foundation after the sudden death of Rajput, who struggled with his mental health.

The foundation works to make therapy affordable and accessible to young people in India.

“Sushant Singh Rajput was a dear friend of mine who was really ahead of his time,” Khurana told Eastern Eye.

“He was a very passionate man and we would have really in-depth, interesting discussions. One day we had this call about a national mental health therapy and counselling and that it needs to be affordable in India for people to try it out at least and know how it works.

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INSET 1 Darasing with Commonwealth SG
Khurana with Baroness Patricia Scotland

“When the news came out during the pandemic that he was depressed and had committed suicide, it felt like a personal loss to the entire country and more to me because I knew him. He was my friend. We spent a lot of time together in the same house that he died.”

Following the actor’s death, Khurana noticed people, especially youth, began to share their own mental health struggles on social media.

It prompted Khurana – an actor, model, radio jockey and former Mr India pageant winner – to support people through his social media platform.

He told Eastern Eye, “I was so surprised to see the messages that I received. For example, a young girl from Rajasthan said her life was in danger because she was in love with a guy from different religion and, if her father found out, he was going to kill her.

“I was expecting to personally help them out, but these conversations and these problems, I realised they need help from experts.”

Khurana approached counsellors and therapists, telling them he would pay for these young people to get the therapy they needed, but was shocked by how expensive it was.

“I was told each patient needs at least 10 sessions, with each session costing `2,500 (£25), so that’s `25,000 (£250) per person,” said Khurana.

“That is when I realised this idea to make therapy affordable in India. Instead of just uploading statues [on social media], I need to do something in his [Rajput’s] memory and that is when I started this foundation, which now subsidises therapy by 90 per cent.”

Khurana’s foundation works with counsellors who charge `250 (£2.37) for each session. Sometimes, when a person is not able to afford even that, he pays from his own pocket.

His work led to a chance encounter with the Commonwealth secretary-general, Baroness Patricia Scotland.

“There was this event happening in Hyderabad [south India] at the world’s largest meditation centre [Kanha Shanti Vanam] in January where people from 139 countries were participating in. Secretary-general Patricia Scotland was the chief guest and we happened to meet,” said Khurana.

“We spent two days in the ashram after the event and I was able to share these ideas with her as I felt we had common goals and wanted to develop them with her views.

“She probably saw I was full of ideas and of enthusiasm and a young guy that wants to change the world and thought I will be the right one to be the youth ambassador.

“When I received my appointment letter, it was such a beautiful surprise for me and I was honestly overwhelmed with joy.”

Khurana kicked off his Commonwealth Year of Youth Champion role with a meeting with Queen Camilla and had discussions with Baroness Scotland in London last month.

INSET 2 with Queen Camilla
Khurana greeting Queen Camilla in London

He shared his plans with the Queen, who was representing husband King Charles as the head of the Commonwealth, as the monarch undergoes treatment for cancer.

“I shared my plans around youth mental health and wellbeing with Her Majesty and she was really supportive, so I’m even more pumped now to get on with the work,” said Khurana.

“I explained how we want to work towards a better balance with technology in the life of young people, by implementing a Commonwealthwide programme. She agreed it was absolutely the need of the hour and encouraged me to focus on this,” he said.

Khurana helped children as young as eight access heavily discounted counselling through his foundation.

“I have seen young people suffering and that is the reason I feel I can be the voice, and bring this change in the Commonwealth countries. I want to make sure we do not take this mental health crisis ahead for the generations to come and we end it here,” he said.

Research by his foundation showed a drastic drop in patience levels among the younger generation and a corresponding spike in their anxiety levels.

The primary reason is believed to be the overuse of electronics and social media.

Through his work with Dr Rekha Chaudhri, founder of World Digital Detox Day, his focus is on encouraging a lifestyle change that would help young people better deal with technology.

“We have come up with a roadmap, which can be merged with the education system in all the Commonwealth countries so that students are taught right from the beginning in their schools on how to maintain a balance with technology in their life,” Khurana said.

“We are overusing technology, which is harming us. We need to train the youth of today to realise how much technology, social media and electronics is right for them. And that you need to be with an actual human being, have that touch, that love, that connect with your own families.

“The digital detox will help younger people, whilst they are growing up, learn the basic rules of the use of electronic devices, social media – when not to use it.

“When we make it a part of the education system, society will start accepting it in the years to come. It wouldn’t be like that: ‘Oh, I was trying to reach you today and have the entire day pass and you did not reply to me’. It will be a normal thing to be digitally detoxifying for some days in a week.”

INSET 3 Sushant Singh Rajput GettyImages 814649894
Sushant Singh Rajput © Getty Images

While mental health will be among his top priorities, Khurana also has plans to help organise an interfaith event with the University of Cambridge.

A short film competition and sustainable fashion, inspired by his modelling and acting career, are among other ideas he wants to bring to fruition.

Khurana revealed his intricate fusion sherwani by designers Shantanu & Nikhil was admired by the Queen during his visit.

He added, “We need to get to the deeper meaning of religion, to bring all the religious leaders from across the globe together and make sure the right message is sent across, that all the religions are together. This is another subject very close to my heart.”

He is keen to pack in as much as he can into his year-long Commonwealth role and help amplify the voice of young people from across the 56 member countries.

Khurana will be working with Prince Edward, the Duke of Edinburgh, who took on the role to promote and raise the profile of issues facing young people in the Commonwealth.

On the work front, Khurana has a Marathi film, Bandra, releasing in November.


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