On the surface, the Netflix series Class may appear to be just another high school drama as it follows a group of students as they navigate the challenges of adolescence, personal relationships, academic pressure, and constructing a desirable social image. Beneath the surface, though, the series delves into the complexities of adolescent relationships, including issues of consent, boundaries, and communication, as well as the impact of social media and technology on young people’s relationships and mental health. Furthermore, the show highlights issues like classism as it looks at the lives of students from disadvantaged backgrounds transplanted to a posh school in Delhi, and how they deal with the discrimination they face.
The show also explores generational trauma. “Individuals who have experienced generational trauma, such as Koel in the show, may be more likely to struggle with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),” says Dr Singh. They may also be more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviours, such as drug or alcohol abuse.
Mental health experts comment on the characters in the show and how the show effectively portrays multiple mental health issues.
Substance Abuse & Generational Trauma
One of the main characters in the show, Suhani, is sketched as someone who engages in frequent drug abuse to escape her traumatic childhood, when she faced an intense lack of love, security and acceptance from her family. “Suhani’s difficult family background and her struggles with fitting in at school have left her feeling like an outsider and unable to connect with others in a meaningful way. Suhani indulges in drug abuse and escapism as a way of coping with her feelings of loneliness, insecurity, and disconnection from the world around her,” says Dr Sheba Singh, founder & director, TalkSpace-A Mental Health Studio, Mumbai.
Suhani tackled intense lack of love, security and acceptance from her childhood. In moments of desolation, she found solace in a habit that provided escape from complex feelings of disappointment and loneliness. She eventually finds a support system in the form of her love interest Neeraj and his brother Dheeraj, but eventually succumbs to the violent onslaught she becomes a victim of.
Dr Singh says, “Suhani's difficult family background and her struggles with fitting in at school have left her feeling like an outsider and unable to connect with others in a meaningful way. Suhani indulges in drug abuse and escapism as a way of coping with her feelings of loneliness, insecurity, and disconnection from the world around her.”
While it may provide temporary relief, it ultimately only serves to deepen the wounds and prolong the suffering. When trauma is passed down from one generation to the next, it can create a legacy of emotional pain, fear, and anxiety that can last for many years.
“Individuals who have experienced generational trauma, such as Koel in the show, may be more likely to struggle with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),” Dr Singh says. They may also be more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviours, such as drug or alcohol abuse, as a way of coping with their emotions. Generational trauma can also affect their relationships with others. They may struggle to form healthy attachments and may be more likely to experience conflict and interpersonal difficulties in their relationships.
The character of Veer Ahuja, throughout the series, comes across as an individual fiercely protective of his elder sister, his family and most importantly his friends. He would go through any lengths to ensure the safety of his loved ones, lengths that often involved him taking extreme measures to express his disagreement with those who threatened them.
“Often this was expressed through physical violence and threats. Veer stems from a very influential family background where a sense of entitlement is ingrained in him from the very beginning, given he has to take over his fathers business empire in the very near future. He is head-strong, decisive and convinced of the validity of his decisions in any situation, no matter how impulsive those decisions may be,” says Himani Bector, Counselling Psychologist at Karma Center For Counselling & Well-Being, Delhi.
Gradually, he is able to get an insight into how his aggressive portal of disagreements may not be an ideal way of dealing with people in his vicinity. This is where he starts struggling with trying to manage his emotional responses whenever his protective side is triggered. Numerous attempts to try and suppress his aggressive side fail as being the fierce protector and eliminating threats in a permanent manner, is the notion he has been conditioned with.
Sexuality & Confidence
Sharan, another character that illustrates confidence issues and how they impact his relationship with Koel. He appears to be a confident individual on the surface, but deep down struggles to express his disagreements and views openly. As the series unfolds, his journey of coming to terms with his own sexuality is outlined.
A journey that encompasses accepting his own sexuality and dealing with the societal backlash which occurs when his sexual preferences are revealed. Faced with an onslaught of online bullying, shaming and questioning of his masculinity; his innermost distress finds an outlet in the most brutal course of action- committing a heinous crime.
Dr Singh draws parallels between Veer and Sharan’s characters by saying, “In some cases, people may become aggressive or confrontational as a way to protect themselves from further emotional harm. For example, Veer Ahuja in the show is an angry young man who is also very protective of his sister. Alternatively, they may become overly accommodating or people-pleasing in an attempt to win the approval and affection of others. For example, the character Sharan in the show seems to please his girlfriend Koel and would want to win over her in any case. Both of these patterns can be detrimental to their well-being and happiness.”
Insecurities & Abandonment
Without a secure emotional connection, people may struggle to develop a strong sense of self-esteem or a feeling of being worthy of love and attention. This can lead to a range of negative outcomes, such as insecurity, trust issues, and difficulty forming and maintaining healthy relationships.
“Abandonment and its transcending expression into fear and aggression is another emotional response pattern that is represented by the character of Yashika. Tackling parental separation, especially in the absence of both parents, she seeks that emotional safety and validation from her best friend, social media,” Bector comments.
Yashika is clear-headed with respect to what she wants and progresses towards achieving it no matter the cost. For her the scholarship was a way to ensure her bright future and no matter what the price for that may be- she was ready to pay it. She works consistently to ensure the downfall of her competitor, even if it means putting her own romantic relationship in jeopardy. Dr Singh points out, “Yashika has clearly experienced emotional abandonment and neglect from her parents, particularly her mother. This has left her with deep-seated feelings of insecurity and a fear of being alone, which manifests in a range of behaviours that can be seen as aggressive or confrontational.”
At the same time, Koel, a young woman who goes after what she wants, is a character that displays varying shades of insecurities, fear, confidence and perseverance. Koel has only known one brand of survival, fake it till you make it. That seems to be the family motto, no matter what is going on under the surface, the pretence must stay strong. Dealing with the terribly confusing relationship and the constant moral ambiguity of the family business has dealt its blow on Koel. She throws aside all that may be important for the sake of appearances and constantly undermines her own feelings and emotions, in line with what she’s probably grown up seeing.
“Maintaining her and her family’s social image is the utmost priority no matter what way she has to adopt -- be it breaking up with a boyfriend who isn't ideal anymore or protecting the family name by hiding a homicide,” Bector comments.
To conclude, Dr Singh states, “It's important for individuals who have experienced emotional neglect or abandonment to seek support and guidance from trusted friends, family members, or mental health professionals. With the right support, it is possible to overcome these challenges and build stronger, healthier relationships in the future. It is also important for individuals struggling with addiction and mental health issues to seek support and guidance in order to find healthier ways of coping with their emotions and building meaningful connections with others.”