Television Dramas Help Public Better Understand Mental Health Issues, Say Experts


Television storylines in shows such as Coronation Street, EastEnders and Homeland help viewers understand mental health issues better, according to new research.

Academics studied TV dramas, including soaps, and found that the way mental health issues are portrayed on screen is becoming more realistic and is more likely to encourage people to seek help for their own problems.

The report, by campaign group Time to Change, found mental health issues featuring more often in plot lines than five years ago but warned there were still some "simplistic portrayals" and misinformation.

More than 2,000 viewers were questioned as part of the research with more than half (54%) saying that seeing a well-known character on screen portrayed as having a mental health problem improved their understanding of what it involved.

Almost half (48%) said it helped change their opinion about who can develop such problems and nearly a third (31%) said they had discussed storylines with friends or family.

Stuart Blackburn, the producer of Coronation Street which is about to feature a story where one if its best-known characters, Steve McDonald, is diagnosed with depression, said it was a "challenge" for the show.

He said: "A particular challenge we faced with Steve and his depression is the audience's fear that the Steve they loved is gone for good.

"What viewers love about him primarily is the comedy - he's affable, hapless Steve, the bloke next door. But I've told the writers his DNA hasn't changed.

"His head might be taking a battering at the moment, but he still has the same wit, still has good days and bad days. And you can't rush the story.

"We've got to find a way to tell the truth about this, warts and all, and entertain the audience. You hope a show like Corrie can genuinely make a difference to tens if not hundreds of thousands of people, who'll be watching with different eyes or thinking 'Maybe I should go to the doctor' - but we won't get through to them if they're turning off."

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Sue Baker, director of Time to Change, said television had the "ability to shape and form public opinion".

She said:"It's important that some of the country's best loved soaps and drama series are taking on mental health storylines, doing them accurately, not fuelling stigma and helping improve understanding."