The Hindi film industry has become increasingly vocal, trying to de-stigmatize and advocate mental health issues. Filmmakers and celebrities are continually attempting to normalize conversations about mental health with films like Dear Zindagi (2016) and Chhichhore (2019). However, there is still a rare conversation or representation of mental health in TV shows or on small screens.
Specifically, despite tackling other critical societal concerns such as domestic abuse or COVID-19, TV serials seldom addressed mental health. While television serials are frequently regarded as backward, archaic, and overdramatic, they remain a vital part of India’s entertainment system.
So, here are three reasons why mental health representation on smaller screens is necessary to raise mental health awareness and de-stigmatize mental health illnesses and treatment.
TV serials have a vast and devoted fan following, with rising viewership in rural areas.
It’s hard to think that many people still watch TV serials these days, given the growing popularity of OTT platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime. The numbers, on the other hand, show differently. Many shows run for years, gaining a committed fan following over time, making them perfect platforms for communicating societal messages, such as mental health concerns.
Serials are also a popular form of entertainment in rural communities. About 422 million rural individuals have access to television, according to the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), and serials are among the most-watched content in rural areas. As a result, any social messaging included in television shows would reach the rural people.
These same viewers, by coincidence, are the target audience for mental health representation, and the only way to remove stigma is to educate citizens about mental health and normalize mental health care in these communities. Given that many rural viewers watch TV serials as their primary source of entertainment, serials can be a helpful platform for educating viewers about mental health.
TV serials are good at incorporating pertinent societal concerns into their plots and can impact their audience with positive perceptions about particular issues.
Long-running TV shows have a pattern of including relevant societal concerns in their plots. Including social messaging in them can be helpful, as it will fit into their dramatic story, which will increase TRP and raise awareness about these issues among viewers. Incorporating mental health representation in similar ways can result in a win-win situation for viewers, showrunners, and producers.
According to a survey done between 2014 and 2016, over 400 million people watched a Doordarshan series named Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon throughout two seasons. This serial was “edutainment” in the sense that it was both informative and amusing. It addressed issues such as child marriage, domestic violence, health-care quality, and family planning.
In India, attitudes about mental health could change for the better if a similar “edutainment” model is used to improve mental health awareness in TV serials. It could encourage more people to seek help and support others who are doing so.
TV serials give an excellent platform for introducing mental health issues or treatment because of their exaggerated plotlines.
TV serials are ideal for presenting themes like mental health issues and therapy to Indian audiences because of their over-the-top and dramatic nature. Makers frequently include storyline twists that put their characters to unimaginable degrees of trauma to keep viewers interested.
Thanks to their plot twists, TV serials already offer the appropriate backdrop for including mental health topics. Showing a protagonist seeking help with their family’s support and being open about going to treatment might help eliminate common misconceptions about therapy and medications and educate the audience about various conditions and treatment alternatives.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on everyone’s mental health in India and around the world. We need to be aware of mental health services now more than ever, without the fear of being judged or labelled. And, if smaller screens can be used to spread information about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, why not use the same platform to share information about the long-running mental health concerns?