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.

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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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