New drama highlights the impact of schizophrenia
Digital team's blog
If ever we needed a reminder that mental illness can affect anyone, at any point, and in a number of complex ways, The Boy with the Topknot, a new one-part drama airing on BBC Two at 9pm tonight, is precisely that.
Sathnam Sanghera, a successful journalist and author today, was once the boy in the title, the fourth child of a traditional Sikh family growing up in inner-city Wolverhampton. His childhood is a happy one and not dissimilar to many other kids growing up in the Eighties – with Wham! and other ‘cheesy pop bands’ posters plastered all over his bedroom wall. Sathnam eventually makes it all the way to the University of Cambridge, and then onto a prestigious job writing for The Times.
The Boy with the Topknot is a memoir that Sathnam began writing, he says, ‘as a way of explaining why I wasn’t going to marry a Sikh girl, as they [his family] desperately wanted me to’. It became more than that – a journey of discovery into his family’s past, the early years of his parents’ marriage and the impact a hidden condition had on them all. This condition was schizophrenia.
In his conversations with his parents to research his book, which the drama is based on, Sathnam discovered how his newly wed teenage father was diagnosed with the condition. He had not known this before. Nor had he known that his eldest sister was also diagnosed with the condition as a young teenager herself.
Schizophrenia, as we know, affects 1 person every 100. Symptoms are many and diverse, especially because everyone is affected differently. It generally develops in early life, between the ages of 15 and 35, as was the case for Sathnam’s father and sister.
At Rethink Mental Illness, we know all too well what the impact of such a diagnosis can be on individuals and their families, how unsettling and painful it can be. We also know how often it is also made worse by stigma and discrimination, or even self-stigma (feelings of shame and guilt).
Programmes like The Boy with the Topknot are essential to ensuring those barriers are broken down, to showing how schizophrenia is in our lives, in all communities, all social and cultural backgrounds. It shows that it is an illness that, like many others, can be treated, and that recovery is possible.
In September this year, we ran our campaign Rethink Schizophrenia. With it we aimed to challenge commonly held misconceptions around schizophrenia and help people to better understand the reality of what living with the condition is. The reality is not what one might assume – beyond the hospitalisations and medication there are stories of recovery and self-affirmation, of overcoming the odds, and thriving. Read the stories on the campaign hub. I’m sure you’ll find them moving and inspiring.
Sathnam and his family’s story is a great example of that reality, with all its complications. Tune in tonight and let us know what you thought of the programme on Twitter and Facebook.