May 24, 2012

Zak Dingle, EmmerdaleIf you're an Emmerdale fan, you will have recently seen Emmerdale's Zak Dingle struggling with his mental health problem.

Our supporter, Lol Butterfield, talks about how he used his experiences to work with Time to Change to help Emmerdale craft their scripts.


Performing an advisory role for the much loved character of Zak Dingle in Emmerdale is so different to anything I have ever done in my lifetime. This role has given me a unique opportunity to influence a major 'Soap' storyline with a view to challenging the all too common damaging myths and negative stereotypes surrounding mental ill health in the media.

Conversely in many ways this has been equally therapeutic for me as much as the character Zak himself. During the first few months of being a script adviser I found myself facing the prospect of redundancy at work, and whilst my self esteem and mood understandably dipped as a consequence of this news, my confidence began growing again in response to the advisory role I immersed myself into. For me, it’s important to get as near to accuracy as is possible with this work.

I felt it was crucial to concentrate as much on the non verbal as the verbal behaviour 

When reading through the scripts I felt it was crucial to concentrate as much on the non verbal as the verbal behaviour when giving feedback and advice to the programmes researcher. I felt this was critical to allowing the viewers to observe Zak’s despair by seeing his actions and behaviour as much as by hearing his words. Often the non verbal gestures and body language will betray a person’s inner feelings and highlight their depression. Small touches can be significant in telling the full story and I have tried to concentrate on minor details which all eventually build up a jigsaw to reveal the whole story.

My intention is also to encourage the viewers to fully empathise with both Zak and his wife Lisa, in her role as his carer. I also hoped that this would teach the viewers how to spot the potential signs and symptoms of depression in themselves and others.

I utilised the knowledge and experience of my 30 years work as a qualified mental health nurse

I utilised the knowledge and experience of my 30 years work as a qualified mental health nurse, and (of equal relevance), someone who has also experienced depression. My background knowledge of the hospital ward set-up, disciplines of staff, medication, documentation used, and treatment and recovery approaches is critical for realism. The communication skills of the staff, their non judgemental approaches, and therapeutic rapport with Zak should resonate with the viewer if I am to get this right.

As such this work has become very personal to me. It comes from the heart as well as the head. In time, my working relationship with the Emmerdale researcher grew stronger through many telephone calls, emails, and texts discussing the character’s story. We both share a passion to make this work and make an impact for all the right reasons.

In essence I have tried to put myself in Zak’s shoes for this work

In essence I have tried to put myself in Zak’s shoes for this work. I have attempted to truly empathise with his plight in order to feel his pain and walk the same journey to eventual recovery. Only by doing this I believe I can be true to my profession, those who have found themselves on the receiving end of the mental health care system and the anti stigma cause itself. Although not everything has always gone my way in offering clinical and personal advice, I am reassured to say that much of my advice has been taken on board and Emmerdale are determined to sensitively promote this storyline, this enthuses me more.

The viewers will ultimately decide for themselves of course, and I will continue to strive to make Zak’s condition and subsequent treatment as realistic and authentic as I can. My voice is only one voice but it comes as both the nurse and once the patient. That in itself must be a powerful influence and will strike a chord with the viewers.

What do you think about the issues raised in this blog? Share your views with us on Twitter >>

Or pledge to share your experience of mental health today and find out how talking tackles discrimination. 


For journalists, programme makers and scriptwriters Time to Change offers a one stop support shop. Our Media Advisory Service can offer a range of support, from advice over the correct use of language, to in-depth consultation over characters and scripts.

Watch a video of Steve Halliwell talking about the storyline >>


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Too many people are made to feel ashamed. By sharing your story, you can help spread knowledge and perspective about mental illness that could change the way people think about it.



<p>I have found the story line most disheartening especially when the family were told he was sectioned. As an AMHP I found that totally unrealistic that the family would be told by the Psychiatrist!!!&nbsp; What about least restrictive? Family wanted to try and support him at home - Home Treatment Team could have been involved. This never happens in my experience. Also, the Mental Health Nurse comes across as patronising and annoying. How long did they think they could stop the family from visiting? What about Human Rights? Noone has been told about right to appeal against section.</p>

I have not beem watching

I have not beem watching recent episodes of Emerdale but will now catch up on Iplayer. I wish to respond to the post by the approved mental health professional. Firstly not all areas have home treatment teams, also some mental health nurses are patronising and annoying!! Secondly it is in my experience as a professional within a mental health organisation, that the family have been cut off once a person comes under the care of the mental health teams and they complain bitterly of feeling outcast. I have seen too many times, a family trying to cope and support someone who is mentally unwell and being advised by services that they can and will do nothing, until a crisis situation develops and the person is then a danger to themselves or others, because the ill person has disengaged or won't voluntary accept help. Once the crisis situation arises and we have a police presence and traumatic experience for all involved, the ill person is then taken to hospital ( if assessed unwell enough) and at which point possibly blames the family for this horrendous experience and their hospital admission and refuses to see or speak to them. The door is firmly shut on the family and they are left out in the cold with no support!! This is the reality for many families in the area I work!

I have not been watching ...

<p>Dear Anon</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>I am experiencing mental health issues with my daughter at the moment who is a single mum of two beautiful children who are living with myself and partner. &nbsp;Although my daughter, as you say, is afraid to engage in the home thereapy that is so called available (not least because she will not stay in her home alone and living with anybody who will house her on a nightly basis), &nbsp;and although the community nurse listens to my concerns for her safety, I am always told that there is absolutely nothing they can do. &nbsp;Over the past few years my daughter has self harmed by taking overdoses, hurting herself, binge drinking etc and yet is still not a danger to herself or others. I have a meeting soon with the professional team! and would be extremely grateful if you could give me any suggestions, from your professional opinion, what to be prepared for in advance of the meeting as I have no confidence in them at all and feel very vulnerable.</p><p>Kind regards ...</p><p>Desperate Mum</p>

Hi, I'm really sorry to hear

<p>Hi, I'm really sorry to hear you and your daughter are going through such a difficult time. Rethink Mental Illness and Mind both run brilliant info lines and will be able to offer you practical advice about what to expect. You can contact <a href="">Rethink </a>on&nbsp;0300 5000 927 and <a href="">Mind </a>on&nbsp;0300 123 3393 or by emailing&nbsp; </p><p>Kind regards, Ed - Time to Change Online Officer</p>


<p>Hi All,</p><p>In response to recent posts, I am very sad to hear that feeling outcast is the experience of many families. In my work, I am regularly in contact with families and try my best not to leave them feeling isolated and ignored. </p>

Hope Zak gets his 7 day

<p>Hope Zak gets his 7 day follow up. Don't think he was given the best information regarding medication ie should have been warned about dangers of just stopping it. Anyway, as everybody keeps telling me - it's just a Soap.</p>


<p>Dear Desperate Mum,</p><p>I would suggest you go to the meeting with a clear idea about what you are requesting. You might already have an idea of what is likely to be discussed in the meeting and what the views of the professionals are. Do they have carer support service where you live? You can request a carers' assessment for yourself if you are caring for your daughter. </p><p>Hope the meeting goes well for you and your daughter.</p><p>Regards,</p><p>Anon.</p>

Dingle Problems

<p>Watching Zak go off the rails, and the rest of family suffer, plus no help coming from Cain, son of Zak, I fully expected the Dingle Council to make a reappearance to sort it all out.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>I feel the script wroters missed the opportunity to develop a more exciting stroryline on this occasion. It was not believable that Charity (with the use of one knee) put the baddies to bay. It should have been a meeting in the barn with a load of Dingles appearing to route the loansharks. Later culminating in a Dingle Court with Cain dragged in and brought to heel by the "council"</p><p>Is the Dingle Council all but forgotton about now?</p><p>&nbsp;</p>

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