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For those fans of Coronation Street, you will have been following the storyline of landlord and taxi firm owner Steve McDonald who has a depressive illness. It’s a very impressive portrayal of someone suffering from this very widespread mental health problem. Hopefully the storyline will do much to counter stigma, and provide real help for people and their families and friends.
For those who don’t follow this soap opera, there’s a few things you need to know about the character. He’s a man of 40 with a young daughter, an attractive girlfriend, and an interest in a couple of seemingly successful businesses. The obvious inference is some people might think, what has he got to be depressed about? Of course, as we know depression can affect anyone and may have nothing at all to do with their home and family circumstances. That’s why the series writer’s choice of Steve as the subject is very challenging. Here’s a normally very happy go-lucky character who enjoys a laugh, often at other people’s expenses, albeit someone who often shirks responsibility and avoids confrontation. He’s got a lot of supportive male friends, a girlfriend and caring mother, and yet all of them feel powerless to help. The other interesting thing is how the story is very slowly developing. This is not just a sudden dramatic occurrence to grab the viewer’s attention. There were hints in the summer about changes in Steve’s behaviour, and how he has avoided dealing with day to day business and family matters, but only now have things come to a head.
Key messages about depression
Behind the drama, there are some key messages which I think the programme will get across:
- Change in thoughts and behaviour are often key to identifying a mental health problem.
- Family and friends can find it difficult to help someone with symptoms unless unless there is a diagnosis they can understand.
- Being able to recognise the problem is a vital first step – Steve went to his GP with a physical problem, and only after much probing was the doctor able to really find out what was wrong.
Avoiding the obvious
The character of Steve does not play a typical picture of what we might think a person with depression might look like, this is a much more subtle portrayal. It is leaving family and friends, and maybe viewers bewildered by what he does, even to extent of damaging his relationship with partner Michelle. At the moment there’s really only Steve, and his GP who recognise he is depressed. It’s going to make for informative Christmas and New Year viewing.