Still Game's Sanjeev Kohli tells how lockdown sent him back into depression


Lockdown has been awful for many people and stars of stage and screen are not immune to the side-effects of Covid-19.

Still Game and River City star Sanjeev Kohli revealed his battles with depression two years ago and has found the pandemic to be a bigger struggle than he initially thought.

He said: “The first couple of months I was actually quite enjoying. But in July and August the black dog came barking again.

“I’d find it hard to even get out of bed some days. I’ve started to emerge from it over the past week or so. It’s no great surprise, it’s the perfect storm.

“Everyone’s talking about the ­explosion in mental health issues so it’s absolutely understandable.

“I took comfort from the fact that everyone is struggling in some way.”

Sanjeev Kohli as Navid in Still Game with on-screen wife Meena, played by Shamshad Akhtar

Sanj first spoke publicly about his experience of depression in 2018 as an ambassador for the mental health charity Dancing With the Black Dog.

He admits feeling reassured by the early responses to the lockdown, with the Government supporting workers through furlough and talk of mortgage holidays somehow assuaging bigger concerns about wider society.

Yet as the weeks wore on, he started feeling differently.

He said: “That expression ‘the new normal’ became one of those expressions that lose their meaning when you say it too many times.

“I was in the city centre today for the first time since lockdown and it was really depressing.

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“Then you realise, this is the new normal. And you wonder, is it going to be this way forever? I don’t think it will but you have to ask these questions.”

The experience also left the actor and writer pondering a wider purpose.

His Twitter account is a linguistic playground, a pun-factory and outlet for a man who loves words.

There’s nothing like a pandemic to make you wonder why you’re making jokes on Twitter when folk are risking their lives to scan your ­shopping at the Co-op.

Sanjeev Kohli with his wife Fiona

He said: “There was that sudden realisation that people who weren’t being valued before should really be valued. NHS workers, delivery drivers, people working in shops.

“These are worthy lifestyles, not putting puns on Twitter.”

The pressure of looking at people’s lives through social media during a difficult period also took its toll.

He said: “I’ve a lovely pal who’ll run up mountains and make jam and do amazing creative things with his kids.

“I see that and think, ‘I can’t compete with this.’ I’m always comparing myself unfavourably to other people.

“So if you take away the one thing I know that I’m good at then what am I left with? That then erodes your confidence for doing anything, so you don’t do anything.

“I painted the skirting boards. That might be the most creative thing that I did. But that feeling of being a bit useless, a bit surplus to requirements, I think that might be part of it.

“So it’s no big surprise that the black dog came back but I’ve started to emerge from it.”

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The Glasgow actor, who played shopkeeper Navid Harrid in Still Game, turned his hand to a few other jobs during lockdown, including recording a part on Radio 4 drama Ankle Tag, and seeing the ninth series of his radio comedy Fags, Mags and Bags go out, also on Radio 4.

There was also a reading of BBC kids’ story The Parrot Who Lost His Pirate, written by former Daily Record ­journalist Brian McIver.

And a fortnight ago he returned to the Dumbarton set of River City, where the cast are acting in small pods and working with green-screen technology to minimise contact.

Sanjeev Kohli helping the Masks for Scotland online charity concert

He also joined a roster of stars contributing home-made pieces for the National Theatre of ­Scotland’s Scenes for Survival.

At just over six minutes, Sanj’s film – Quiz – takes the form of the Zoom quizzes that will come to be remembered as one of the ways people maintained contact with family and friends during the lockdown.

Co-written with Isobel ­McArthur, it features Sanj as the host of a school reunion quiz.

He said: “I thought the idea was interesting because and I was glad to be asked because I don’t really do theatre.”

Sanj and Isobel worked remotely on the script, pinging it back and forth, before Sanj went on set (his living room) and the camera (his smartphone) started rolling.

“No audience, no sound ­engineers, no cameras, just me and my iPhone,” he said.

“It was a fun process. I look at what Limmy does and I think I should be doing more of that sort of thing. So I enjoyed it.”

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● Sanjeev’s Scenes for Survival goes live on nationaltheatrescotland.com/events/scenes-for-survival today.

● The Parrot Who Lost His Pirate is on the BBC iPlayer. Ankle Tag and Fags, Mags and Bags are on BBC Sounds.





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