“Loog kya kahien gay?” (What will people say?)—a seemingly innocuous question, yet one that wields remarkable power, shaping the very contours of our existence. It holds so much power that we let this statement influence our decisions. Talking about mental health and getting treatment for it is one of them.
In a landscape marked by a staggering prevalence of mental health challenges in Pakistan, our society stands at an impasse, reluctant to recognize these struggles and actively resistant to accept that people need treatment. In this gloomy landscape enters the power of entertainment portals, which are a powerful lens that present unspoken narratives of our society find expression, fostering a dialogue that holds the potential to reshape perspectives and ignite change.
Over the years, we have seen television dramas integrating the plot of mental health into their narratives. Some did a job well done, while others received criticism for their inaccurate depiction of a serious subject.
Let’s look at Pakistani dramas, over the years, that have made an attempt to highlight mental health issues and their success in doing so.
Mein: False Portrayals and Missed Marks
The currently airing drama Mein starring Wahaj Ali and Ayeza Khan came under shrewd criticism following a psychiatrist-patient scene in the third episode.
The story follows a self-absorbed, arrogant, and stubborn woman Mubashira who ends up getting a divorce from her husband on the night of her wedding anniversary party. Mubashira goes nuts after being humiliated in public and threatens to kill her ex-husband. Her haughty attitude does not end there, and she continues to insult people. Her worried father agrees to get a psychiatrist on board.
And oh boy it all went downhill from there. Hear this, Mubashira and her psychiatrist have a session in Mubashira’s house, sitting within close proximity. Their conversation unfolded like pep talk and ended with the psychiatrist holding Mubashira’s hand. The mindless execution of this scene just goes on to represent the lack of research that goes into translating such a sensitive scene on television, thus setting a wrong precedent and expectations of the masses.
Sabaat: Unveiling mental health missteps
Considered to be one of the biggest hits of 2020 and yet unfortunately Sabaat is another addition to the list of dramas that failed to portray the subject of mental health with sensitivity and accuracy.
In the drama we see Miraal (Sarah Khan) a rich and spoiled daughter of a businessman who has the urge to control everything in the life of her loved ones. After the demise of her maternal grandmother, Miraal experiences visions which disrupt her mental health. To seek help, Miraal starts to visit a psychiatrist – Dr. Haris (Usman Mukhtar).
Following Dr. Haris’s entry, the drama received wide criticism on social media when some of the scenes made it clear about the blooming romance between Miraal and Dr. Haris. Rumor has it that some scenes were reshot to minimize the damage of showing a romantic relationship between a doctor and his patient. Nevertheless, some scenes were still questionable and not executed well. In addition, while Miraal’s mental illness was a major plot, it wasn’t explored well by the director and the writer. Her journey to recovery was haphazard and the audience had to make a wild guess about type of Miraal’s mental illness.
Unfortunately, this execution is another testament of how we treat mental health in general. In a society, where masses do not have mental health awareness, even a hint towards romanticizing psychiatric-patient relationship is damaging and just goes on to highlight the unhealthy expectations of therapy dramas promote.
Jhoom: Breaking barriers with accurate depiction of mental health
A breath of fresh air among the sea of dramas highlighting mental health is the recently mega-hit project Jhoom.
Through Haroon Kadwani’s character Aryaan, the drama dives deep into addressing mental health issues including anger management and depression. With grace and sensitivity, the makers highlight the story of a man who suffers from depression due to his traumatic past.
Jhoom highlights anger issues in the character, without glorifying them, and the makers did a great job in emphasizing how imperative it is to address them and seek treatment for it to avoid the gloomy consequences that can follow.
Furthermore, the drama also depicts society’s ill-treatment towards a patient with depression and how it makes it hard for those who are on the journey towards recovery. An iconic dialogue of Aryaan, that is still remembered “kabhi aap jeet ker bhi haar jatay hain”-highlighting the turmoil of such individuals who despite winning their battle with mental health are still scrutinized and lead down by people.
Saraab: Confronting the society’s ignorance on Schizophrenia
A directorial venture of Mohsin Talat, Saraab attempts to highlight schizophrenia, a mental health issue often shrouded in misconception and societal indifference. Through the lens of Hoorain (Sonya Hussyn), the series bravely delves into the intricate challenges faced by those grappling with hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thoughts.
The drama mirrors reality as it shows how Hoorain’s family is unsupportive and plans to get her married, considering it will magically solve all the problems. They also turn to peers, get taweez for her, and turn to mystics and charms rather than seeking professional medical help.
These sad turns of events go on to show society’s failure in addressing mental illnesses of various kinds. Saraab offers a window into the complexities of schizophrenia and encourages the viewers to educate themselves about this grave issue.
Ye Dil Mera: Unravelling veiled realities of PTSD
In the realm of psychological thrillers, Ye Dil Mera aimed to unravel the veiled realities of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The narrative cast a spotlight on the poignant journeys of two central figures, Noor-ul-Ain (Sajal Aly) and Amaanullah Khan (Ahad Raza Mir). Both characters bore the weight of traumatic pasts, their experiences etching scars that time could not erase, molding their very identities.
In a pivotal moment, the story unfolds the narrative of seeking help from a professional for Aina, however her father Agha Jan (Adnan Siddiqui) is sceptical and considers therapy as a taboo. This issue is put to rest after Agha Jaan is schooled by the psychiatrist, a message also directed to the audience.
Despite its flaws, the drama aptly presents how ignoring mental health issues can prove to be problematic and these untreated traumas continue to haunt. The audience is drawn to sympathize with the trials of the main characters by recognizing the profound toll of untreated mental health and how some stories have to be put to rest in order to begin a new chapter.
There are numerous other dramas that have delved into mental health and various pressing concerns that deserve attention. However, the key takeaway is to fully grasp the intricate nature of these narratives and recognize the gravity of mental health issues. Dramas wield a formidable influence as a medium to bring to light topics often shrouded in silence.
Thus, it is critical for the makers to understand their responsibility and craft compelling narratives that effectively convey the right message, especially when it comes to representing a subject as sensitive as mental health.