How Programmes Like My Mad Fat Diary and Derek Can Help Reduce the Stigma Around Mental Health

When I first saw the adverts forandI was extremely dubious about the pair of them.was advertised as a programme much likebut with a 'mad fat' girl as the main character.

When I first saw the adverts for My Mad Fat Diary and Derek I was extremely dubious about the pair of them. My Mad Fat Diary was advertised as a programme much like Skins but with a 'mad fat' girl as the main character. Derek was advertised as Ricky Gervais almost dribbling his chin reached out so far and Karl Pilkington in a wig. Both of these programmes could have gone either way when it came to the tough issue of mental health and I was worried they would be another clueless shot at trying to make this topic light hearted.

I was all ready to make a disapproving post about the both of them, telling the world that they shouldn't look at mental health disorders in that light. Imagine my surprise when I found myself enjoying both of the programmes and relating to parts from each.

Firstly, My Mad Fat Diary, of which the final episode airs on Monday 18 February . We have followed Rae Earl (Sharon Rooney) from her leaving the psychiatric ward she had spent three months in and trying to get on with her life as a 16 year old in the 90s. I'll quickly touch on the soundtrack as anyone that lived through the 90s will enjoy the upbeat hits from Prodigy and the way Radiohead sneaks in when Rae is going through tougher moments in her life. The music just helps to set the scene for this rollercoaster of emotions which is partly due to her mental health disorder, partly due to her being overweight and partly just because she is a 16 year old girl trying to get on with her life. One of the most spectacular characters is Kester (Ian Hart), her counsellor, who cleverly touches on Rae's instability away from her friends and family. You also have her best friend from the hospital Tix (Sophie Wright), who clearly suffers from an eating disorder of some kind and whose story was beautifully covered in the last episode, to tie in nicely with Eating Disorders Awareness Week. What makes this programme even more special is that Rae Earl is a real person (she is, I've spoken to her on Twitter) and these are her stories that she felt brave enough to tell the world. The team behind the show such as the wonderful Tom Bidwell and E4 itself should be extremely proud that they have managed to bring this woman's teenage years to life on screen.

Next we move onto Derek which even my boyfriend eyed at with suspicion when we saw the advertisements. The way Ricky Gervais carried himself, stuck his chin out in an unbearable gurn and even Karl Pilkington's hair made us both wonder if this was going to be some long drawn out joke on mental health sufferers. Although only two episodes in so far (all could go wrong) I have to say that I am pleasantly surprised with the way Ricky, Karl and the team have handled such a difficult subject. Instead of focusing on Derek's possible disorder in the programme it is looked over as if there is no problem at all; he is just a normal, nice bloke. In fact, when Derek was questioned by a suited council official as to whether he had been tested for autism his answer bought a tear to my eye. "Will it [autism] kill me? Will it change me at all? (No) Well don't worry about it then". Add Derek's pure soul with Karl Pilkington being Karl Pilkington and a stunning performance from Kerry Godliman for a television treat that will soften even the hardest of hearts.

Both of these television programmes have managed to talk about mental health in such a brilliant way that I feel there should be more like it. The younger generation that watch shows such as My Mad Fat Diary could find themselves relating to things Rae goes through or perhaps even Tix. Knowing that these issues can lead onto bigger problems can be a great preventative measure for young people with eating disorders or other mental health problems. Rae is just a 16 year old girl like any other who wants to be normal and enjoy her teenage years. I'm sure a lot of women (and men) could relate to that in their younger years or even now. Then you have Derek which touches upon the subject differently but still helps to eradicate that stigma. Nobody treats Derek any differently and Derek doesn't see himself as any different. A lot can be learnt from the way that Ricky Gervais has broached this subject and so he should be extremely 'chuffed' with himself. Hopefully these programmes will help those who don't understand see that mental health disorders can manifest themselves in anybody, sometimes without any reason whatsoever. It can also help those suffering realise that they are not alone and should not be ashamed to talk about what they deal with. Look at the real Rae Earl, writing a book of her experiences and then having it turned into a television programme. Now that is brave.

Both images courtesy of Channel 4.


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