I’ll make this clear at the outset; I’m not a fan of EastEnders. My wife is, and I occasionally take a passing interest in it. Honest.
But there is one storyline that has really piqued my interest in the past year or so; Stacey Slater’s gradual development of bipolar disorder.
For those who aren’t regular viewers, Stacey’s behaviour became gradually more erratic over the summer, before a final climatic breakdown and sectioning in full view of the residents of Albert Square late last year. The character has since had treatment and returned to the Square.
Lacey Turner, who plays Stacey, has garnered much praise for her portrayal of the character, from TV critics and mental health organisations alike. At the National Television Awards last night she won the best serial drama performance award to add to several others she’s already won in the past few months.
But there is much more to this than Lacey Turner needing to think about buying a bigger trophy cabinet; there is evidence that it is helping young people with bipolar disorder to seek help and tackle the stigma associated with mental health issues.
MDF The Bipolar Organisation says the number of young people calling its helpline has doubled in the past 6 months, from about 400 a day to more than 800. It believes this is mainly down to the Stacey Slater storyline, according to a report on the BBC’s Newsbeat website.
In addition, the BDRN (Bipolar Disorder Research Network) said that within 48 hours of the EastEnders Revealed episode of Stacey being bipolar they had 8,536 visitors to their website.
This is also a long-term commitment from EastEnders; Stacey Slater is now pregnant, and to coincide with this, MDF and BDRN are focusing on bipolar and pregnancy, to hopefully further attack the stigma around the condition.
It just goes to show that soaps can be much more than just TV escapism. If they tackle big issues well – EastEnders’ scriptwriters have worked extensively with mental health charities such as Mind to ensure that the storyline is as true-to-life as possible – they can bring about real change.
I’m still not going to admit that I like the show, though.