After suffering life-changing injuries having been caught up in an horrific maize maze fire,Emmerdale’s Priya Sharma has been struggling to come to terms with the mental and physical impact.
Requiring two skin grafts, Priya (played byFiona Wade) has been left covered in burn scars, causing her to feel a sense of loss of identity as a result.
As Fiona explained: “For Priya – and me, actually – it’s incredibly hard and heartbreaking as what she sees is just not her body. She doesn’t know who she is any more.”
And forDr Ophelia Veraitch, consultant dermatologist , the mental and emotional impact of living with a visible difference is something that she encounters regularly, with the psychological turmoil often being as significant as the physical condition, mark or scar itself.
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“Anything that affects our appearance, whether it’s a burn or psoriasis, can have a really big impact on our mental health.
“It’s very common to have a psychologist in clinics because it is such a big thing,” said Dr Ophelia.
In fact, as part of her recovery, Priya’s dad Rishi suggested that they look for a therapist to help deal with her trauma and to make her feel less isolated.
“It can cause depression and anxiety because it’s common for people to get down and depressed about their appearance.
“In the storyline, Priya is a beautiful young girl who takes pride in her appearance, so it’s even more difficult to come to terms with.
“In a society where appearance is important, if you’re a young woman and you lose that, it can feel like you’ve lost your worth almost,” she added.
According to the charityChanging Faces , people living with a visible difference may feel as though others are judging them, making everyday situations difficult. For some, feelings of anxiousness can prevent them from even leaving the house.
“With burns and scarring, especially on the face, it’s a noticeable thing so people may stare at you on the street and that’s going to have an impact on how you view yourself,” Dr Ophelia said.
Opening up about the role during an appearance on This Morning, Fiona spoke about the “responsibility” that she felt filming the scenes.
“The anxiety sets in – the responsibility you hold with something like this because you are portraying real people’s lives and situations people are actually going through,” said the 42 year old actress.
As a result of the storyline, Dr Ophelia hopes that the representation will help improve attitudes towards those affected.
“It’s about educating society about how they view people who may look different.
“By getting representation on shows like Emmerdale it’s great because it educates people and hopefully it will make them more sympathetic when they come across people with visible differences,” said Dr Ophelia.
Throughout filming, Fiona worked closely with Changing Faces as well as ambassador and burns survivor Catrin Pugh, 27.
After a frightening bus crash inferno in the French Alps, Catrin was left with 96 per cent burns and was given a one in 1,000 chance of survival.
“Priya’s wounds are nowhere near as bad as anything that Catrin experienced in real life. I was overwhelmed by her bravery and for giving me that insight into what it is like,” Fiona told theSunday Mirror .
“And as emotionally challenging as it's been, I’m just an actor. The people who have actually gone through this are the real life brave heroes.
“What I’ve realised is you go through things and then you find this inner strength. You come out stronger for it,” she added.
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