Lol Butterfield is a media volunteer for Time to Change. He has been working very closely with the soap Emmerdale to ensure that the storyline involving Zak Dingle developing mental health problems, has been accurate and sensitive.
These are his top tips for making good drama out of crisis.
- reality is the key. It is imperative that the characters portrayal is as plausible and authentic as possible
- knowledge of services, treatment programmes, and the care planning process adds to the authenticity
- scriptwriters need to be flexible and willing to modify scripts depending on feedback around mental health signs and symptoms
- non verbal communication and body language are equally as relevant as the verbal communication when covering a condition such as depression .
- the viewer will be able to identify and empathise more with the character if they are familiar with symptoms exhibited. This may be through their own experience or as a friend, carer or family member of someone who has a mental health condition
- it’s important to show mental health in a more positive light and not resort to negative stereotyping . This could be the stereotypical mad axe man or the hysterical woman who is a danger to her family
- living with a mental health condition there are good days as well as bad days. It’s useful for the viewer to be able to understand this. Moods fluctuate depending on different external factors at the time, just like everybody else in the population!
- it is only when mental health deteriorates to severity that the bad days become very bad and the good days are very few and far between. So showing somebody with a mental health condition to only have bad days is not very accurate.
- what soaps & dramas have the power to do is to ‘normalise’ mental health issues, whereby the viewers will have greater understanding of the 1 in 4 statistic and appreciate that they too could also become mentally ill at any point in their lives.
Why not read Lol's blog about his double life as one of soaps most popular charactors?