Male mental health has long been a taboo topic – even the youngest of us can remember the phrases like ‘man up’ and ‘boys don’t cry’ as it was so recent that mockery came before sincerity when it came to men struggling with depression and anxiety.
In recent years, it has become more safe for men to speak out about their feelings – and soaps were one of the first genres to encourage men to speak out. From Hollyoaks to EastEnders and Coronation Street to Emmerdale, they have all featured pinnacle stories which have shown men struggling with dark feelings.
I welcome that wholeheartedly – I am married to a man who has suffered anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder since I have met him and he has tried to take his own life on more than one occasion.
Like Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) in EastEnders, I have listened and taken strength from the calming voice of a Samaritans worker as has my husband. EastEnders reflected this perfectly – from a script that was helped by the charity – and it brought it all rushing back.
Like Mick, the man I love was on the edge and this stranger’s voice could put things in perspective that even I could not. They allowed him to just talk and vent without sharing an opinion or judgement and that saves lives.
Danny Dyer’s performances – from the tearful stuff to the more subtle fidgety actions such as scratching his neck anxiously – have been so raw and relatable. I have seen it in the man I love – and I have felt it myself too.
Soaps have a huge platform and I am confident that these performances will encourage others to seek help.
My husband writes about soaps for a living and I often worry about how he will manage when a male mental health story crops up but in actual fact, it adds to our strength that we are not alone.
As well as Mick’s story, EastEnders focused on Sean Slater’s (Rob Kazinsky) inner torment, thus proving that so called ‘alpha males’ and ‘hard men’ can cry and struggle and feel worthless.
Depression and suicide rates in men are a troubling issue – more so than ever during lockdown.
And EastEnders is not the only soap flying the flag for male mental health and highlighting how much men can struggle.
‘It’s different for men, ya know? It shouldn’t be, but it is,’ said Mick to wife Linda after bravely opening up.
He’s right, the archaic representation of men as hunter gatherer, pillars of strength, never cry and save the damsels in distress has caused a huge harm and unreachable and unattainable standard.
But cross over to Coronation Street and the powerful Aidan Connor suicide story and Hollyoaks with Kyle Prior – men suffer in silence and when they feel they can’t talk, the consequence is devastating and irreversable.
Mick in EastEnders found the strength to talk – as did Aaron in Emmerdale and Peter in Corrie – and this is so vital to watch for all ages and all genders.
Soaps are saving lives with these stories and must continue to do so.
Statistically – on every street, square or village, multiple men will reach the darkest point.
Soaps continually addressing this isn’t repetition of storylines but realism. And as long as people watch, engage and take away from this, soaps will continue to play a huge part in addressing one of the lesser talked about UK epidemics – male mental health.
Need support? Contact the Samaritans
For emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email [email protected], visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.
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