Public attitude towards Mental Health has been changing in recent years, and as a society we seem to be on the right path towards helping people. What was once swept under the rug and not treated as seriously as physical health, is now talked about openly; and as celebrities and public figures continue to come forward to discuss mental health issues, other parts of society are being encouraged to do the same, so that everyone can gain a better understanding of what depression is and how it can be prevented or treated.
Yet despite this climate, which encourages stigmas and taboos to be left behind, there was still some controversy when Coronation Street, the world’s longest running soap opera, broached the subject head on, with the suicide of prominent character, Aidan Connor.
The story aired last week, but like most big soap story lines it was discussed in detail for days and weeks in advance, in tabloids, magazines and television interviews, so that when people finally sat down to watch the scenes in question, there was very little room left for shock. Instead, the controversy was in the unprecedented nature of the story-line itself, and questions were raised as to whether the subject belonged on a show like Coronation Street, or should have been left for more factual programmes to address.
As a general rule, however, so long as it’s done well, there are very few storylines that should be off limits, and when a message is depicted well and in a beneficial manner, there are very few platforms it doesn’t belong on. So the question wasn’t whether or not such a story belonged in Coronation Street, but whether or not Coronation Street could deliver it effectively.
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When it came down to it, they went to great lengths to do so. Writers and producers worked with the charity Samaritans when creating the script, and although the show was still difficult to watch in parts, they didn’t go down the line of showcasing the suicide directly, or indulging in moments that existed only for shock value. Instead, they focused on the impact the death had on the people around it, and in doing so included one monologue that will likely be remembered as one of the most poignant moments in the shows history.
Creatively, it retained it’s functions as a TV drama, and didn’t fall into the trap of becoming an advertisement for suicide awareness. Characters reacted to the news in different ways and displayed a variety of emotions, not all of which were admiral or helpful. When it came to ending the show, they skilfully tied Aidan’s death in with an unconnected storyline that has been running for several weeks, and indeed attracted its own controversy. David Platt – another male character struggling with mental health – who for much of the episode appears to be contemplating his own suicide, ends it by opening up about his struggles. David admits, ‘I only told you because with everything that’s going on in my head I know i’d have ended up like Aidan’, and in doing so manages to display the sort of impact that the show in general hopes to have on people.
We don’t have to look too far into the public sphere to see examples of how true to life these story lines are. Scott Hutchison, lead singer of the Scottish band Frightened Rabbit, was found dead last week, after a days-long search for the musician, who was said to be in a ‘fragile state.’ It’s a tragic death that has impacted countless music fans, and is another reminder of how prevalent suicide is in the UK, where it is the number one killer of men under the age of 45.
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Given this prevalence, a show like Coronation Street, which generates such mainstream discussion, choosing to include a storyline of male suicide is a decision that goes far beyond the normal realms of the show. Having been done right, it becomes an addition to the public collection of stories and information that exists on mental health; one which in many ways stands out as different to the rest, and is both much welcomed and desperately needed.
Since the shows broadcast on Wednesday night, one suicide prevention charity helpline has experienced its ‘busiest day ever’, and there have been other examples of the storyline helping people. If this impact continues to any extent, then there will be no one questioning whether or not a suicide storyline fits in with what people want or expect a soap opera to deliver, because Coronation Street will have delivered something much more important than that.
Where to get help
- Your local GP
- South West College, Student Support Officer (calling into the Student Services Office or email:
- Carecall – 0800 389 5362
- Aware – 0845 120 2961
- Aware – have 23 support groups throughout Northern Ireland which welcome people with depression as well as the family and carers of people with depression. For more information on our support groups, please click here (https://www.aware-ni.org/information-about-our-support-groups.html)
- www.turn2me.org – free online counselling
- Saneline – 0300 304 7000
- Lifeline – 0808 808 800