Sunday, May 31, 2009

Researchers help popular British TV show, EastEnders, with storyline about character with bipolar disorder

From BBC News:

Researchers at Cardiff University's school of medicine have been helping EastEnders scriptwriters with a storyline on manic depression.

In the soap, 19-year-old Stacey Slater (pictured, played by actress Lacey Turner) has been seen struggling with the symptoms of this mental illness.

It becomes apparent she has similar problems to her mother as the soap tackles the issue of whether the condition runs in families.

The researchers hope the storyline will reduce stigma attached to the illness.

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, causes serious problems in 1% of the population with patients experiencing severe mood swings.

EastEnders viewers have seen Stacey Slater's mother, Jean, try to persuade her to seek medical attention. However, a fearful Stacey is adamant there is nothing wrong and tries to carry on as usual.

The researchers were first approached by the EastEnders scriptwriters for advice 18 months ago and they have been helping with the storyline, which is long-running, ever since.

One bipolar disorder sufferer who has been working with the researchers in Cardiff has also been sharing his experiences with the scriptwriters.

Neil "Twink" Tinning, 48, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder five years ago and said the condition was "debilitating and life altering".

"You go from real highs and mania to real depression and suicidal thoughts and it can range between the two on a daily basis," he said.

"Some days are really tough and I've attempted suicide four times."

Mr Tinning said the storyline was a "huge deal" for those that suffer from bipolar disorder.

"It's also a huge deal for de-stigmatising the illness," he said.

"The thing about EastEnders is it's not just a one-off story, it's a continuation of the story that goes right the way through this year."

The Cardiff-based bipolar research network hopes the storyline will help dispel some of the myths around mental illness and have set up a website explaining more about the illness.

One of the researchers, Professor Nick Craddock said: "In the past people have not spoken about this illness because of the stigma, and we hope to bring it to the public domain and get more research done so we get better treatment for this really important illness.

"We've also been involved in setting up a public information site to support the EastEnders episodes and provide information."

Prof Craddock also said they were conducting a study into bipolar disorder and genetics at the university which involved interviewing sufferers about their illness and taking blood samples.

"Then we're looking for which particular factors make individuals susceptible to illness - both genetic factors and life experiences," he said.