Mental health is an extremely important topic to discuss, and soap operas are unique in that they are television shows that are consistently shown on TV. Millions of people in the UK watch the various soaps each week, and they can become a rich source of information for people when they choose to write storylines that are issue-based, and are therefore an opportunity to portray certain things that a wider soap audience may not know about. With this, they can therefore help people to understand things in a way no information booklet ever could because they give a realistic portrayal of them. Soap operas in recent years have included a wide range of mental health storylines, and below are my top 3.
Trigger warning – I will be discussing a couple of storylines that include a character dying by suicide.
1. Mick Carter’s anxiety (EastEnders 2019 – )
This storyline is ongoing, and it has recently been given more prominence in the soap due to a new storyline for Mick Carter (played by Danny Dyer) that is currently developing. However, we first saw Mick’s anxiety storyline on screen in August 2019 when we saw him have a panic attack while refereeing a youth football match. Since then, we have seen him have a handful of panic attacks and seen him go to hospital as a result. I think so far this storyline has been mindful to show how panic attacks feel, which can be difficult to portray. From the storyline, we have seen how it can be confused with being a heart attack as some of the symptoms are similar, and that anxiety and panic attacks can be controlled through medication and/or talking therapy. We saw Mick seek help from a GP in 2019 where they asked if anything specific had triggered the panic attacks. Mick listed off the events of last few years (pretty much since he arrived in the show) which included health problems, family relationships and being sent to prison for something he didn’t do. Although that is enough for any anxiety storyline to have origins in, more recently it has been shown that his anxiety may have come from something that happened in his childhood, and I am really interested in seeing this explored over the coming weeks and months.
2. Steve McDonald’s depression (Coronation Street 2014-2015)
In my time watching Coronation Street, I have seen the show portray depression twice, both of which were different and had very different outcomes. Back in 2014, Steve McDonald (played by Simon Gregson) was shown to spend more time in bed sleeping, feeling down, and being a shadow of the usual happy and funny character the viewers had grown to love over the years. For me, this was the first time I fully understood depression, and that people can still function and carry on their everyday lives with it. Steve’s depression also seemed to come from nowhere, which is also something that can happen as it doesn’t always have a specific origin or reason for happening. The show explored the effects on Steve and his relationship with his family, and how men in particular can feel useless due to having depression. The show did a great job with this storyline, and I for one learnt a lot about depression from it.
3. Aidan Connor’s depression (Coronation Street 2017-2018)
A couple of years after Steve’s storyline, Coronation Street again wrote a depression storyline, but this time it was largely written off screen in terms of subtle hints and clues being within the scripts for months, with some fans speculating about what could be happening. For viewers who hadn’t read any spoilers, Aidan Connor (played by Shayne Ward) dying by suicide in the show was a shock. There was hardly any build up, and that was the point. Whereas with Steve the viewers saw him suffering with how he felt, with Aidan we didn’t, which is unfortunately a realistic portrayal of many people who have depression, and also for those who die by suicide. The storyline left Aidan’s family members and friends shocked and overwhelmed with what happened, and left them with a lot of unanswered questions. As a soap viewer, it was a sad and realistic reminder of what many people go through. The overriding message from it was that people need to talk about how they are feeling.
A special mention must also go to the very recent depression storyline in Hollyoaks which has also shown the experiences of two male characters with depression, with one (Kyle Kelly, played by Adam Rickitt) taking his own life. Again, like with Aidan in Coronation Street, the people around Kyle had no idea of how he had been feeling. He had also been helping his friend, Darren Osborne (played by Ashley Taylor Dawson) who had been suffering with depression. Darren’s storyline continues on the show.
Are there any different soap mental health storylines that you have watched and thought were portrayed very well? Let me know in the comments section below.