Dramas and soaps ‘aid public understanding of mental health issues’

Soap operas and news reports about mental health can play a valuable role in increasing understanding of depression, anxiety and schizophrenia, and in encouraging people with problems to seek help, research has suggested.

The mental health charity Mind organised a survey of more than 2,000 people, which found that half of the respondents who had seen a storyline involving a character with mental health problems said it had helped their understanding of the issues.

Nearly a third of people with a mental health problem said they were encouraged to seek help after seeing or reading a news story, while a quarter were prompted to get assistance after seeing a soap opera or drama involving a character with mental illness.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: “These statistics show just how powerful all forms of media can be in encouraging people to go and see their GP, call a helpline or just get in touch with a friend or a family member with a mental health problem.

“Media portrayals and reporting, when done well, can be a lifeline. Drama storylines in particular can help people who might be struggling to feel less alone, and they play a vital role in signposting to the help and support that is available. It’s fantastic that we are seeing more media coverage which offers a sensitive, compelling and realistic representation of mental health.”

The survey results suggest that dramas have improved from a time when storylines involving people with mental health problems were frequently based on negative stereotypes.

Mind, along with Bipolar UK, and Action on Postpartum Psychosis, worked with the soap EastEnders for a storyline over Christmas and the new year about a character with postpartum psychosis, a severe mental illness that normally occurs shortly after giving birth.Postpartum psychosis was also the subject of a BBC One documentary this year, part of the channel’s widely praised In the Mind season exploring mental health issues.

Mind’s publication of its survey coincided with its annual media awards, which aim raise raise awareness of mental health problems and tackle stereotypes.

Maisie Williams, an actor in Game of Thrones, who also appeared in the Mind Media Awards’ winning drama, Cyberbully, shown on Channel 4 in 2015, said: “After Cyberbully was aired in the UK we had the anti-bullying line on afterwards and they had a massive influx in calls from kids and teenagers who had been too frightened to speak out and try to stop whatever [was] happening. I feel it gave them the confidence to do that.”

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