Samaritans works with all kinds of different media on how to cover themes like suicide and attempted suicide in ways that are helpful rather than potentially risky to audiences. Done well, programmes can encourage more understanding of what a suicidal person might be going through and make it easier for others who are suffering to ask for help. Done less well, there's more of a chance that a vulnerable person watching could be influenced negatively.
Hollyoaks got in touch about a year ago when they had the idea that Scott would make a suicide attempt. We were pleased that they worked with us from the outset, sharing scripts as they developed the storyline. They also invited us and colleagues from the mental health charity MIND to run a workshop with key members of the cast and production team. Together we highlighted the challenges but also the opportunities that storylines like this provide to raise awareness of suicidal feelings and depression in ways that can be helpful to the audience.
It's not just the actors' words that are important, it's the way that scenes are shot too. For example, Scott's actual suicide attempt wasn't shown on screen. That's important because research shows that by highlighting a method you risk others being encouraged to think about trying to end their life that way and even making an attempt themselves.
It was useful to go to the Hollyoaks set and meet Ross Adams who plays Scot Drinkwell (as well as fun to see the school, the Dog in the Pond pub and of course Lisa's Love Boat burger bar!) Ross was very focused on making the storyline as valuable as possible to the audience. Everyone involved at Channel 4 has been responsible, especially in the way they have built helpful insights into the story around how a person may become suicidal.
Viewers have seen Scott suffering with depression and over time he's also had to face a string of big set-backs in his life. By hiding behind his happy-go-lucky mask for so long, and pretending to everyone that he's ok, Scott has been on his own for a long time with difficult thoughts and feelings that have been building up.
That's really important to show because a suicide or attempted suicide is very complex, and never the result of just one thing. What Hollyoaks has done successfully is to show the danger of not talking about what's happening when life is tough and how that adds to the pressure you feel. The result is that you can become isolated with your problems, which can make everything worse. Talking gives you some perspective and opens the door to getting help to deal with the pain and pressure you feel, and by managing that you can start to deal with the issues you're facing.
I would say to anyone who might be feeling overwhelmed, don't wear that mask, allow yourself to reach out for help and tell someone you're not ok. If you don't feel you can talk to a friend or family member, look for someone else you can trust, talk to your GP or one of the many support organisations out there. Anyone can contact Samaritans in confidence for free at any time from any phone, and the number won't show up on your phone bill. Don't suffer in silence, difficult thoughts and feelings will pass and talking things through with someone and just being listened to, as simple as that sounds, can help your recovery.
In future episodes, we're going to see Scott learning to be more honest about his feelings, although I'm sure it won't be all plain sailing. That's important to depict for the audience too. Thinking you can't go on or feeling like you just don't want to be here anymore is not unusual. One in five adults in England say they have had suicidal thoughts at some point in their life.
For the vast majority, life goes on, things improve and they get through. Even for those who reach the very lowest point and make a suicide attempt, recovery is possible. You can get support and you can go on to lead a happy and fulfilling life. By showing how someone comes back from a difficult place, you can give other people hope.
Scott's character is extrovert, vibrant and appealing and he's played by a fabulous looking actor in Ross Adams. On screen, that combination is very compelling and some people may identify with Scott or aspire to be like him in different ways.
To help counter that, we suggested to Hollyoaks that Ross and I should go live on Facebook straight after the show to give the audience time and space to look at the events objectively, away from all the drama, and ask any questions they may have. Hollyoaks was keen to encourage anyone who may have been upset, or who may be struggling themselves, to reach out for help.
Hollyoaks is on Channel 4 at 6.30pm each week day, with a 'first look' at the next night's episode straight after at 7pm on E4. You can catch up with the Scott Drinkwell's storyline here and watch Samaritans' Lorna Fraser and Hollyoaks actor Ross Adams in conversation on Facebook here.
Scott's storyline forms part of Hollyoaks #DontFilterFeelings mental health campaign.
The work Samaritans does with programme makers and broadcasters is supported by our Media Guidelines for the Reporting of Suicide. You can find out more and read them in full here.
Anyone can contact Samaritans. Whatever you're going through, you can call us for free any time from any phone on 116 123 (this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill), email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.samaritans.org to find details of your nearest branch.