At some point in our lives, all of us will either experience mental health issues or know someone else who has. Sometimes they are people who are around us every day and we are unaware of what they are going through. Because, one of the hardest things to do when we are feeling anxious, depressed or low is to talk about it. I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder a few years ago and it was one of the most difficult journeys I have ever gone on. I remember it coming out of the blue with no obvious trigger and suddenly I went from being one of the strongest people I know to the exact opposite of that. Why was this happening to me? It took me a long time to get to the point where I could tell someone how I was feeling – I felt ashamed, in denial, confused – all emotions I was too embarrassed to share with anyone. I finally reached out for help when the anxiety led to a full blown driving phobia. I could get behind the wheel and even switch the engine on but I couldn’t move off due to the anxiety that would consume me. I eventually started telling people about what I was experiencing and it got easier every time I did this. I even managed to start being open about it on social media and was surprised by how many people contacted me to share their personal stories. I then signed up for a course of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) which taught me invaluable mindfulness techniques that I still use today. The anxiety does come back every now and again but I manage it better and talking about it is no longer an issue for me.
Mental Health Awareness is naturally a subject that is very close to my own heart. As a Muslim and someone who grew up within the wider Asian community I am particularly affected by the many stigmas about mental health within ethnic minorities – this is something ‘we’ still find difficult to accept and talk about. So one of the stories we are exploring in our Mental Health Special, is about a young Asian man who has been diagnosed bipolar. Through this character we explore the importance of reaching out for help and encouraging others to do the same. We highlight that this man and his condition is not ‘a problem’. It is more about looking at the wider community/family and their feelings about the subject and encouraging them to get the support they need. More importantly, that this is not something to feel ashamed about.
I felt very lucky to be able to storyline and script-edit our BBC Doctors special on this topic. I feel like we have always told mental health stories well on this show, but this is the first time we have devoted a set of six consecutive episodes to air around Mental Health Awareness Week in May. A combination of hard hitting stories that aim to reflect many aspects of mental health and the impact on sufferers and their loved ones. We touch upon a number of things such as the strain mental health call outs can put on the emergency services as well as introducing an array of characters who each have their own story to tell. In addition, there are some ongoing strands including one about a receptionist doing voluntary work at an Old People’s Home, another about a much loved GP experiencing severe anxiety and one showing a character struggling with his mother’s dementia. There is a special outreach bus that goes out at night to assist vulnerable people on the streets. And we feature a young man in foster care who may have undiagnosed Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
We certainly aren’t naïve enough to think we will conquer all the myths and concerns around mental health by the end of our special week but if we can use our regular characters and our ‘world’ to help viewers understand a little better and reach out for any support that is out there and much needed – we will have achieved what we set out to do. This is such an important issue and one that people still find hard to understand and talk about.
Our special mental health episodes will air on BBC One at 1:45pm from the 8th to the 15th of May.