As society begins to take mental illnesses seriously, television delves into the subject with therapists coming into play.
Emotional wellbeing remains a tough subject to explore on a mass medium; it is in fact considered a taboo topic in our part of the world where one is hesitant to even talk about mental health, let alone consult a therapist. However, today, there is more awareness around mental health than ever before and people are willing to express psychological issues and seek professional help without the fear of being judged or questioned. Though it will take a lot of time before we as a society start paying attention to mental health as much as physical illnesses, we notice winds of change and they are welcome.
Local dramas are paying attention to the subject by making the role of mental health professionals visible in narratives. Though characters suffering from psychological issues have long been a part of our dramas, themes surrounding the subject of mental health have become more prominent these days. After highlighting multiple taboo topics (sexual assault, abuse, child molestation, HIV) during the last five years, television is trying to break the stigma attached to mental health in Pakistan. Given the wide audience television caters to, this could possibly lead to some form of development.
Last year’s acclaimed drama serial Ranjha Ranjha Kardi featured Imran Ashraf as a mentally challenged young man and focused on multiple aspects of his personality in relation to people around him. He was seeing a doctor and it was shown how the medication prescribed to him helped him get better. Similarly, Ishq Zah e Naseeb that concluded earlier this year presented a character, named Sameer, an individual with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Played by Zahid Ahmed, Sameer’s condition was also monitored by a doctor. There were complications in his treatment (it was sabotaged by his mother) but the drama highlighted how his condition affected him and his relationships while also pointing out ways to deal with a person suffering from the disorder.
“As an artist I feel best when my abilities are contributing to the betterment of society as opposed to just entertainment and Ishq Zah e Naseeb was a perfect example of this,” Zahid Ahmed shared with Instep, adding that he believes all channels should make room for at least three to four dramas every year that have a purpose beyond ratings.
The recently concluded Yeh Dil Mera, with Sajal Aly and Ahad Raza Mir, reflected how a trauma in the past can affect one’s wellbeing. The two characters had problematic pasts that continued to haunt them and one saw Anna visiting a psychiatrist, Dr Arsalan (played by Syed Mohammad Ahmed), in the initial episodes.
Another new drama, Sabaat, highlights an important psychological issue. Miraal, a key character in the story, played by Sarah Khan, seems to be a rude, spoiled brat on surface level but she may be suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). She has a constant urge to dictate others and feel superior without taking their perspectives into account; she just wants to control everything and everyone around her including her family. We know for a fact that the drama will soon introduce the character, essayed by Usman Mukhtar, who will come in Miraal’s life as her therapist and we are looking forward to it.
Shehzad Sheikh and Yumna Zaidi starrer Raaz e Ulfat sees Jenaan Hussain as Mohini, a mentally challenged young woman whose mental growth stopped when she turned five. She is the younger sister of one of the protagonists, Ismail, essayed by Gohar Rasheed. “She gets very hyper but is very loving at the same time; she is no different than a child unlike other people her age. She was born this way,” Jenaan told Instep while sharing information about her character that she was really scared to play at first. The drama went on-air earlier this year and shows how these people need special attention and care to survive.
Moving on, what we know so far with reference to upcoming dramas, Sonya Hussyn will be playing a schizophrenic in her next drama, with Sami Khan. It is a mental disorder which destabilizes a person’s connection with reality while its symptoms range from delusions, hallucinations, mood fluctuations and other cognitive disruptions. “I am schizophrenic and I am not ashamed of being on medication or talking to a therapist,” asserted the actress in a social media post lately, hinting that her character would probably be looking for medical treatment to deal with the condition. The untitled project is expected to air soon.
We are eager to see how these narratives unfold and help shape conversations surrounding the less talked about yet important mental health issues. When Ishq Zah e Naseeb went on air, viewers didn’t understand the concept at once; it took them some time to accept it before they could make sense of it. If television continues to highlight important subjects in addition to formulaic stories, masses are likely to understand the significance and sensitivity of the issues at hand. As a result, they will not hesitate talking about it in their real lives too, hopefully.