Soaps have huge platforms which, in recent years particularly, they have used effectively to shine a light on major life issues, with the aim of raising awareness and bringing about a change for those impacted – or at least giving them the knowledge that they are not alone and there are ways to get through.
Coronation Street, EastEnders, Emmerdale, Hollyoaks, Casualty, Holby City – all have shone a light on the issue of suicide from different angles.
Many soaps chose to highlight the very real problem with male suicide statistics while others explored it through teenage characters under pressure from social media, bullying and schoolwork.
Suicide can also be the worst symptom of a different kind of fear, illness or feeling of hopelessness and, as we spoke to fans ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day, we learned that it isn’t just the storylines directly based on suicide which saved their lives.
Here, a collection of viewers have bravely shared their experiences and which storylines have helped them, including topics which covered sexuality, alcoholism and bipolar disorder.
Some names have been changed for anonymity. These stories contain discussion of suicide and mental health throughout.
Emma, 25 – Emmerdale’s Charity and Vanessa story
Charity and Vanessa’s story in Emmerdale meant the world to me and changed my life. I know it may sound weird because they are just a couple on a soap. They have me the confidence I needed to finally accept myself.
While my parents are lovely and loving and open minded, we had never really spoken about homosexual relationships and how they felt about them. It wasn’t a taboo subject or anything; it just wasn’t something we sat around the dinner table talking about. Where I live there is a small population really, and only one person was ever out and they never spoke about his sexuality so I wasn’t able to get a feel on how they felt about it.
When I was 17 I realised I was a lesbian. I kept it hidden because people at college made homophobic jokes and one guy who was out, got bullied all the time. I thought that was how everyone saw homosexuals. I remember one girl always seemed so nice, yet when she found out he was gay she turned so nasty.
I ended up getting this idea in my head that everyone must be like that. Including my parents, my family, my friends. People who I would work with. So I closed off that side of me and tried to date boys and act like I was too busy for a relationship when each relationship failed.
Fast forward 5 years and the constant paranoia that someone would find out was crippling. The thought of people finding out and then not loving me was terrible. I turned that fear into hate and pushed that hate on to myself. I hated myself. Why could I not be “normal”? Why could I not want men like my friends did? Why was I attracted to women? Why me? The hate towards myself grew and grew.
I was not really interested in soaps until I saw Charity confess she had been raped to Vanessa. I realised they were a couple and quickly went on to search their previous scenes and I what I saw shocked me. That it was ok. No one made a bit deal out of it. No one hated them. No one turned their back on them. My brain shouted ‘it’s fiction. Remember college. It’s not ok’.
I carried on watching their scenes and lived the life I was terrified to grab onto through them.
Then when they got engaged I was sat watching with my parents. My mum got a bit teary eyed as we watched the fireworks light up their faces and said, ‘look how happy they are. How can anyone begrudge someone loving someone else just because they’re the same sex when people could be this happy’
That night I knew the proposal was going to happen. Everyone did. At the time I was so close to doing the most unimaginable thing because if I was never going to be happy and never find love then what was the point. If I was forever going to hate who I was then what was the point?
Yet it saved me. That scene. That couple. Saved me. It really saved me. I came out to my parents right after. I looked at Charity and Vanessa and thought ‘I want that’ and told them. I cried. They cried. Within a month everyone who meant something to me knew. No one had a problem with it.
Had Emmerdale not portrayed them as a healthy, loving couple who’s gender was not the most important thing, I may not be here writing this now.
Rebecca, 43 – Stacey’s bipolar in EastEnders
I remember trying to end my life the first time at 7 years old, and then many more were to follow as I grew up. My childhood was horrific until my grandparents sought custody of me and my sister.
As I got older my moods became more intense, I became wild and was on a path of self destruct. When I was high I was flying and amazing to be around but when I was low it was so dark and I just wanted everything to end.
I spent every day blocking out my memories in any way I could. I thought Life was exhausting me, but it was me exhausting myself. I use to see my doctor when I was so low or in crisis and I was diagnosed as depressed. I would be, I never saw my doctor when I was feeling ‘amazing’. My behaviour and mood swings affected my work, my friendships and my relationships but I just moved on.
When I was watching the story unfold of Stacey’s bipolar I felt so ‘exposed’ I was with her, I felt it all with her. Everything became clear as I saw myself and I felt like I had answers to questions I hadn’t had before. I found the courage to speak to my doctor, as ridiculous as it sounded that ‘I’ve been watching EastEnders and it’s like watching me’. My doctor was amazing, even though he had told me off for not being open with him but how could I?
I didn’t know what I was going through. I was put under the care of my local mental health team and received therapies to help me understand, manage and control my disorder.
It took 9 months to get diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and I am still in therapy. I believe that if I never watched that storyline, I wouldn’t be here today. Mad huh? Even today people ask how I knew. I always start with – Eastenders.
John, 32 – Kyle’s suicide in Hollyoaks
Hollyoaks suicide storyline in June 2020, saved my life, it switched something inside my mind. I had planned to take myown life but stopped after watching an episode of Hollyoaks last year, after seeing the devastating impact Kyle Kelly’s suicide had on his loved ones and today over a year on, I haven’t been depressed since!
I feel reborn, like a new person, I enjoy everyday now! It’s inspired me to go on to making a feature film with the support from Angela Samata who worked on the storyline that saved my life, The Mood Is Temporary.
Kas, 23 – David’s bipolar in Casualty
I have bipolar disorder, and watching David Hide manage the same illness over the years on Casualty has played a huge role in my own recovery and willingness to seek treatment.
It’s helpful not only to see my experiences reflected on television, but to see that recovery is possible and that crises do pass when you seek treatment, peer support, and help.
One of the main things that stood out to me, was in series 31 episode 27 (“Mobile”, aired in March 2017) where David is about to be sectioned and Dylan Keogh has to reason with him. It’s a line that has stuck in my head ever since, when I am feeling suicidal, or like I want to quit my meds, or that I’m not worthy of help; Dylan said, “Would you do me a favour? The favour is that you actively seek support, before support seeks you”. I have kept this in mind for when I am feeling at my lowest, that I need to actively reach out before it is too late, and before seeking help is out of my control (see: getting sectioned, or worse).
There are many other Casualty episodes that have helped me through some dark times, such as s34 e40 which aired last August where David is processing his time spent on a psychiatric unit, and also Iain’s suicide attempt storyline, but the above scene/quote has helped me to work through harmful thoughts and behaviours the most.
My experiences in seeing myself represented by David mostly relate to his manic and psychotic symptoms and behaviours, his struggles to stay well, his hesitancy to take medication and open up to others about his illness. The psych ward episode last year was so surprising to see, because the traumatising nature of being sectioned and all that comes along with it while inpatient is (in my opinion) rarely discussed.
As for suicide I often think of the “seeking help before it seeks you” line sort of like a mantra when I know my mood is slipping downwards and heading towards suicidal ideation, as I know that if you don’t seek help for suicidal thoughts then you can get in real dire straits.
I suppose with regards to suicidal thoughts, Iain Dean’s storyline comes to mind more. For example, I vividly remember him packing up his house and putting all his clothes in charity shop bags for when he is “found” after his suicide attempt. That really resonated with some of my personal experiences, and I do think that it being shown in that way from the outsider perspective has left a lasting impact on my views towards suicide as it made me reflect on how damaging it can be for loved ones.
Seeing how loved Iain was and how everybody was trying to do their best for him really did make me realise that even if you feel alone and hopeless to the extent of attempting to take your own life, there will always be people there to help you.
Lauren, 19 – Bex’s suicide attempt in EastEnders
Bex’s suicide attempt storyline, I found it incredibly powerful and so very well acted, at a time I was feeling so low it actually made me think, I will forever love the show for those two episodes. The time jump between Bex leaving the party and Sonia finding her, actually moved me to tears and watched it at least 20 times, it helped me
At the time I was and have felt pretty helpless or worthless. I’d say I think, but I know full well, I’d attempted suicide twice before, at my lowest it’s like someone smothering you in a thick blanket and dragging you underwater, absolutely zero way out.
I do still struggle with it today, BUT, as for soaps I’m a massive EastEnders fan, I’ve even watched the original episodes and love knowing the history of who lived where, but the Bex episodes, it could be perfect timing, but it made me consider other people over myself, despite every fiber of me trying to give it up
I think the best I can do is at the time I was two attempts in, but something as random as a soap I’d poured so many hours into and connected to? The knife crime storylines, the Bex thing, also an amazing actor, really smashed me in the face while I was sat in my room just looking for a way out. It turns out people care about me just like they did Bex, I have those episodes saved on my laptop and whenever I feel a dip I pop them on and feel stronger. I hope the crew and actors know they help.
Sophie, 22 – Juliet’s sexuality storyline in Hollyoaks
For me personally – I think the storyline with Juliet’s sexuality has saved me. Everything Juliet said to Sid when she came out to him was exactly how I felt. It seemed like she was in my head and had recited my story.
For years and years I had dated boys and went along with it because I thought that was what I was meant to do and it got to the point where I couldn’t live a lie anymore.
I was insecure enough already, but the thought of coming out scared me because I knew that not everyone was going to be accepting. I was very lucky because my parents deep down already knew so that made it so much easier and was a weight off my shoulder.
But telling other people, I felt like I just wanted the ground to swallow me up, I tried backing out, I tried telling myself it’s just a phase – ANYTHING to get out of telling people I’m gay because I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. The first step was admitting it to myself, then telling people when the time was right.
I felt so angry with myself because the boyfriends I had did nothing wrong I just couldn’t love them the way they wanted me to, or the way I thought I should. It was like I forced myself to have feelings and none of that was fair. So watching Juliet discover who she truly is and having to reject Sid brought all of that back for me because it’s what I had to do.
It was reassuring to see the storyline develop overtime and not just all happen within a few episodes and all be plain sailing because that’s not realistic, it showed how not so straightforward discovering yourself really is. I think that’s what saved me – that it really represented the community in the right way and my own personal journey.
It took courage and bravery for her to do it, and to tell the person she really likes and know in the back of her head that it might not go the way she wants. I did feel really suicidal growing up being ashamed of who I am, seeing Niamh portray Juliet the way she has, has helped me accept myself for who I am and now I couldn’t be happier with myself.
She’s shown me that it’s ok, it’s not always going to happen/change overnight – things take time, that it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks because it’s my life, and that there’s nothing wrong with who you are.
So a massive thank you to all the writers and Niamh’s portrayal because without it, I’m not too sure where I would be.
Chris, 30 – Jean and Stacey’s bipolar in EastEnders
EastEnders first hit our TV screens in February 1985, based on the working class lives of a group of residents in a small part of East London. For all their struggles however, life on Albert Square, couldn’t have been further from the reality of the tiny high rise, on the council estate in Bradford where I was growing up.
My ‘addiction’ to EastEnders began just months before the death of the eternally tragic Tiffany, a sickening thud, as her head hits the curb, at the hands of Frank Butcher’s Mercedes. Not only would I watch the episode as it aired on TV, I would also ask my Gran to record the night’s episode and I would watch it again at least twice more the following day.
In addition, I would proceed to watch the weekly omnibus every Sunday afternoon, analysing each scene and every piece of dialogue, while absorbing the characters and storylines. As the years came and went, so too did many characters, but my love for the show never wavered.
Even when the show faced criticism from the press and fans alike, I still ensured I never missed an episode. If I didn’t like a storyline or something seemed ridiculous, I was quick to comment upon it. Decisions producers made, such as axing a character I enjoyed, would often leave me dismayed, often angry.
“Its just a soap,” my friends and family would remind me, just in case I wasn’t already aware. Eventually and before the days of social media, I discovered internet forums and at last I had somewhere to share my passion for the show with other viewers who were equally as engaged, many often more so.
Others would create posts criticising me and others, replying to our discussions with helpful posts like-“Its just a soap!”
In December 2005, I remember a specific set of episodes, set away from the Square, in which Frank Butcher made his final return to the show, but moreover, in which the show explored the character of Jean and her mental health battles.
This story resonated with me more than most, as I had grown up around- and struggled with- my own father’s mental health issues. In 2009 the show returned to the issue of mental health, this time Jean’s daughter Stacey and her eventual realisation that she is also suffering with bipolar disorder, like her mother.
The storyline for me, was gripping, performances outstanding. In fact it was this story which made me finally seek help for my own issues, after realising I too suffered with many of the main symptoms of the disorder, my life in a spiral, the show finally pushed me to seek help, before it was too late. I can’t pretend what happened next was an easy process or that I always encountered understanding and helpful advice from professionals.
After initially being diagnosed with mixed Depression and Anxiety disorder, I was referred to a psychiatrist, who observed me over the course of 6 months and later diagnosed me with, among other things, Borderline Personality Disorder and ‘Rapid Cycling’ Bipolar disorder. Following this I began to receive ‘Talking therapy’ and later Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) along with medication.
I learned new ‘coping’ strategies and in my BPD diagnosis I found, perhaps, an understanding in my obsession with EastEnders over the years. I’ve since spoken to people who also have BPD and some have recounted stories of watching the same film over and over for several months, before they found another one to do exactly the same with.
My love for EastEnders seemed tame after all!Watching the show wasn’t the beginning and end of my diagnosis, in fact it was simply the beginning of a journey that I am still navigating my way around 12 years on. But without EastEnders I would never have reached out and sort help. My life would have continued to spiral along with my mental health, so much has happened in my life since my diagnoses, I would have struggled to deal with before.
And were it not for the show, I wouldn’t still be here.Its dramatic, but true-much like EastEnders. Unfortunately there’s not enough characters on Twitter for me to describe my story, when somebody replies to one of my tweets about the show, reminding me,‘It’s just a soap!’
To put it simply, EastEnders when at its best, is just so much more than that.
Jamie, 18 – Linda’s alcoholism story in EastEnders
I found Linda’s alcoholic storyline really helped me with understand my mum’s demons. I’ve never seen an actress portray a drunk so well before.
Brilliant acting and phenomenal performances from all included.
In a way Linda’s storyline did prevent me from taking my own life as I watched the storyline play out,I started to understand the demons my mother was facing and I knew I need to help my family and I couldn’t do that if I had of taken my own life.
Imran, 31 – Aidan’s suicide in Coronation Street
I had twice tried to take my own life; once as a teenager after being abused and not believed. And a second time when things became too much after a family crisis and things becoming overwhelming.
My feelings were that people would be better off if I had died. I didn’t watch Coronation Street, I had a bit of a snobbery towards soaps if I am honest.
But there was a LOT of hype around Aidan’s episode and, even the press releases resonated with me.
I gave it a watch and my life changed forever. Aidan was me – but I was able to see the consequences whereas Aidan wasn’t able to.
The devastation his family and community went through, the regret that he hadn’t just talked, the pain that would never leave them and the life he could have had.
I realised, I simply can’t do that to my family. So I talked. And talked. And talked. I am still here, still talking.
Life has its ups and downs but I know I will never take the most horrific of routes – because I will remember Aidan’s episode and know that whatever pain I feel, I would never inflict the same amount, if not worse, on my family.
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