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Jenni from Mind’s media team blogs about working with EastEnders on Stacey's postpartum psychosis story in 2015.
I am a huge soap fan and one of my favourite parts of my job as Senior Media Advisor at Mind is advising soap teams when they are considering or writing a storyline featuring a character with a mental health problem.
We will work with them from the very beginning until the scenes are shot to ensure that the portrayals are as accurate and sensitive as possible.
"My interest piqued because it was a story very close to my heart."
I am always excited about new stories but when EastEnders approached us earlier this year with some ideas for a story I was even more enthusiastic than usual. Stacey Branning who is a character with a long term mental health condition (rather than one that appears and disappears within a week!) was going to develop a rare but very serious mental health problem, postpartum psychosis.
Firstly I soon found out this was going to be one of the big Christmas stories, meaning lots of coverage and huge audience figures, secondly because it was about a condition that is not well understood and surrounded in stigma. Finally, my interest piqued because it was a story very close to my heart.
"I was able to use my personal experience when advising on scripts or answering any of the many questions posed by the research team."
Like Stacey I have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder but unlike Stacey I received great perinatal care during my pregnancy and also unlike Stacey I chose to carry on with medication through pregnancy. This may or may not have helped me stay very well both during and after pregnancy, however the possibility of developing postpartum psychosis was always hanging over my pregnancy.
This situation meant that I was able to use my personal experience when advising on scripts or answering any of the many questions posed by the research team. Thankfully we also had the help of two incredible media volunteers who not only helped shape the script, they also met the relevant actors and script editors to give their unique and invaluable viewpoints. We hope that this means that anything we see on screen could (and it some cases!) has happened, rather than just being plucked from the air by some writer who has never come across this condition before.
We know that soaps are often the first contact people have with mental health problems and we also know that done well great storylines can help to shape attitudes and encourage people to seek help. For this reason we are really pleased that EastEnders have gone the extra mile with this one and hope that it raises the awareness needed.
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Blogs and stories can show that people with mental health problems are cared about, understood and listened to. We can use it to challenge the status quo and change attitudes.