Psychosis - through the eyes of a soap story line

April 6th, 2016 in Features

A man hugs a crying woman whilst a man and woman look on from the background.

Bipolar disorder is a mental health problem that affects your moods. Eastenders recently tackled a story line where one of its characters with bipolar suffered post partum psychosis. Find out what our client editors thought about how the BBC tackled this subject.

The soaps are often used as a vehicle to push real issues that are often thought of as taboo or are not widely talked about. A recent example of this is the ongoing Stacey Branning storyline in EastEnders.

Stacey, played by Lacey Turner, has been managing her bipolar for several years now, however the combination of pausing her medication due to pregnancy, and then the recent birth of her son Arthur, triggered a condition in Stacey known as Postpartum Psychosis.

According to mental health charity Mind, women with bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and those who have previously experienced the illness are more at risk of developing Postpartum Psychosis - for these women the likelihood of developing this after birth is 25-50%.

We put the topic of mental health in the media and the EastEnders storyline to our group of client editors and asked them to discuss the issue…This is what they said.

Jason: “I think it provides really good coverage of these important topics. For me it really is a true reflection of what I experienced. Stacey talks about the devil and god and that is something that I dealt with during my illness. It’s really comforting to know you’re not alone.”

John: “One of the things I think it’s really important for is that it breaks down the stigma associated with mental health. It’s really important to make people understand and to reduce the ignorance so that people are better informed. Even just the fact the topic is being talked about provides me with relief.”

Jason: “I also think it’s really good that they show how it affects the whole family. You not only get to see how Stacey deals with the experience but also her boyfriend, children and friends. I also think it’s really important that they offer the support numbers at the end of the show so that if you are dealing with something similar, you know where to go and don’t feel alone.”

Soaps can play a key role in encouraging people to seek help with issues they are experiencing. With over 8 million people tuning in per episode, the potential reach of a storyline on EastEnders is phenomenal.

A Mind poll found that 25% of people who were experiencing mental health problems were prompted to seek support after seeing a soap or drama cover the topic.  Interestingly, Mind also report that the same poll found 44% of people saying storylines had helped change their opinion about the kind of person who can develop a mental health problem with a third saying soap stories encouraged them to have conversations about mental health issues.

The EastEnders cast and crew answered questions on the topic …

John: Why did you choose to address this topic in EastEnders?

Ray McBride, Senior researcher for EastEnders said: “It was actually Professor Ian Jones, affiliate of Bipolar UK, who mentioned the issue of Postpartum Psychosis to me and it was something I hadn’t heard of before. It sounded like quite a dramatic issue that had never been covered before on TV. One in four women with bipolar can experience this and it’s a horrible thing to go through. Their world is ripped apart. It’s a story that needed to be told”

John: There are really good actors playing the roles – have they done a lot of research?

Dominic Treadwell-Collins, Executive Producer for EastEnders, said: “Research is really important for these stories. It’s important to get to know the real-life situations and to give that to the writers. The EastEnders team worked closely with Mind and Bipolar UK to really get the reality across and to make it true to life. James Bye, who plays Stacey’s partner Martin describes how at first he thought the idea that Stacey saw her baby as Jesus was a little out there but in reality that is true of many experiences”.

John: Have the actors had any first hand experiences of mental health problems?

Lacey Turner, who plays Stacey, said: “We spent a lot of time with people who experienced this themselves. We met with other mums and, although the storyline may seem far fetched to some, it’s hardly anything compared to what they’ve gone through. James also met with partners to understand first hand their experiences. We wanted to get as much information as we could to put into the characters”.

And it’s not just our clients who can relate to the storylines covered in the soaps and on TV. The #itaffectsme campaign, was started by Laura Darrall, who lives with mental ill health. Laura is campaigning to break the stigma down surrounding mental health and get people to share on social media when key issues talked about in the media affect them.

According to an article in The Independent, television can play a key role in raising awareness of mental health issues and encouraging people to speak out, particularly a generation not accustomed to sharing their every mood. Laura’s campaign really took off in the over fifties age group following an appearance on the ITV news.