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One in five people realise they have their own mental health problems after watching soaps and drama

Soaps and dramas featuring characters with depression, anxiety and panic attacks are helping people to realise for the first time that they may be experiencing mental health problems.

The research, carried out during the nation’s second lockdown in November, shows that in the last 12 months

  • One in five people (22%) who saw a mental health storyline realised that they had a mental health problem, or had experienced one in the past.

  • One in five (18 per cent) viewers then looked for information and support online, and one in eight (12 per cent) sought help for their mental health from a medical professional.

  • The research for Mind, co-funded by ITV, comes in a year where TV and online viewing has surged as people have had to stay at home during the pandemic.

  • Overall, more than half the nation (56 per cent) had seen a soap or drama featuring mental health on TV, online or as part of a boxset – serving as a powerful reminder that what people are watching now is having a direct impact on their understanding of their own experiences

  • The influence of mental health stories is even stronger among young people, with two in five (38 per cent) of people aged 18-24 realising they had experience of mental health problems after seeing a soap or drama.

  • One in five (21 per cent) then got support from a medical professional. People were most likely to have seen stories featuring depression, anxiety, suicidal feelings, panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The storylines that improved people’s understanding the most explored suicidal thoughts and eating disorders.

With soaps and dramas prompting people to seek help, Mind is urging broadcasters to make sure that characters’ experiences of mental health problems are as true to life as possible, particularly as people struggle with their mental health during the pandemic – and to feature less well-known mental health problems such as schizophrenia and post-natal depression.

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind said:

“It has never been more important for broadcasters to create accurate, sensitive storylines about mental health.

“This year, lockdowns and restrictions have meant that people are watching more TV than ever, and a huge number of us are seeing soaps and dramas featuring mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. At a time when it’s harder to see loved ones and look after our own mental health, these stories are helping people to recognise when they’re struggling and prompting them to seek help.

“It’s clear from this research that mental health storylines are popular and broadcasters are committed to making them. We now need to see more air time given to conditions such as schizophrenia, psychosis and post-natal depression which are still stigmatised and poorly understood.”

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