Monday, 14 May 2018

Why Coronation Street's storyline about suicide is so important

*TW – Discussion of suicide that some people may find triggering

The storylines on Corrie recently have been nothing short of hard-hitting. With Bethany Platt’s grooming, David Platt’s male rape and Pat Phelan’s reign of terror, we’re definitely seeing a darker side to one of Britain’s best-loved soaps. But their latest storyline that saw character Aidan Connor (played amazingly by actor Shayne Ward) take his life has had a particularly big impact. It’s very rare that I watch a soap and feel compelled to talk about it, but those scenes of Aidan sitting in The Rovers with muffled sounds of everyone around him laughing and joking really resonated with me. I’ve been there, and it’s a scary and lonely place to be. As someone that has both attempted suicide on numerous occasions and has also lost friends to suicide, I felt I couldn’t pass Mental Health Awareness Week (14th-20thMay 2018) by without discussing how important Corrie’s latest storyline is. 

Whilst just the act of talking about mental health and suicide is hugely important, especially for a soap that reaches so many people in their living rooms every day, this storyline in particular addressed a couple of elements that I feel are vital for people to understand. Firstly, the fact the story depicted male suicide is a huge step towards addressing some of the largest myths and misconceptions around suicide, and mental illness more generally. Despite people as famous as William and Harry talking about mental health problems, there still seems to be a stigma around men admitting that they are struggling with illnesses like depression or anxiety. 

But according to a report by The Samaritans, suicide is the most common cause of death for men aged between 20-49, and across the UK, male suicide rates remain consistently higher than female suicide rates – most notably five times higher in the Republic of Ireland and three times in the UK. 84 men take their own life each week. That’s 84 preventable deaths every single week. These statistics just can’t be argued with, and show just how big a problem mental illness is, particularly amongst young and middle-aged men (such as the character Aidan Connor). 

Yet there is still such a culture in our society that men should ‘man up’ and not express their feelings. It’s no wonder that so many lives are being lost when a lot of men still feel that they can’t admit to finding things hard or having difficult thoughts. That’s why Coronation Street bringing up the issue of male suicide is so important. Aidan Connor always came across as a very happy, friendly and popular man who had everything together, even if he did make a few mistakes along the way. I expect a lot of men could probably identify with him, and so by exposing his vulnerabilities and the consequences of him not opening up to his family, my hope is that others will realise that it’s OK to talk about your feelings. 

The other element of the story that I feel is really important is spotting the subtle signs that someone might be feeling suicidal. Since the episode aired last week, I have heard so many people talking about how Aidan’s suicide seemed to come out of nowhere. But actually, in retrospect we can see a few small but important signs dating back weeks and even months. For example, there was a point when Aidan gave away his expensive watch to Maria’s young son, Liam. Maria was slightly puzzled by it and took it back to Aidan, but it didn’t cross her mind that this gesture could be a sign of something more serious. And when Aidan went to visit Eva in the cottage, he asked her to dance and told her he had come to say goodbye. Again, Eva didn’t realise that this was Aidan’s way of tying up loose ends and saying his final goodbyes to those he loved.

Like I said earlier in this post, I have attempted suicide on quite a few occasions, so I know how much I kept from family and friends. On the outside, to most, I probably appeared to be perfectly fine. But on the inside and behind closed doors, I was fighting a battle that I felt I was losing. I also know that I didn’t see the signs in the people I loved who sadly took their own lives, or attempted to. Sometimes these signs can be so subtle or hidden that it’s incredibly hard to spot them and someone’s suicide can appear to happen out of nowhere. 

But there are signs that some people display that could prompt us to ask questions about their wellbeing, and I thought it was important to share these with you. So, warning signs that someone could be thinking about suicide include:
·     Always talking or thinking about death
·     Feeling depressed, anxious or withdrawn
·     Displaying risky behaviour such as driving fast, crossing the road without looking etc.
·     Losing interest in things they used to care about
·     Making comments about being hopeless, helpless, overwhelmed or worthless
·     Putting their affairs in order – tying up loose ends, giving away possessions, changing or making a will
·     Saying things like “it would be better if I wasn’t here” or “I’ve had enough”
·     A sudden change from being very sad to being very calm or even happy
·     Talking about suicide or killing themselves
·     Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
·     While self-harm is not directly related to suicide there is research to suggest that individuals who self-harm are more at risk of attempting or contemplating suicide

As you can probably see, a lot of these signs could easily be missed or not given a second thought, and not everyone will display all (or any) of them. But I hope that by sharing these, it will perhaps make people a bit more aware of those around them and will lead to questions and support if you notice something. But bigger than that, I hope that Aidan’s storyline will prompt more people to speak out about their struggles without fear of being judged. And I hope it will encourage more people to simply ask the question “How are you?” or “Are you OK?” and actually stick around to listen to the reply. We live in such a busy world these days, but simply stopping to talk and listen for a few minutes can be life changing. 

Suicide is preventable, but only if we as a society work together to help those that are struggling. Suicide isn’t selfish or an easy way out. It is a last resort for someone who has become so overwhelmed by difficult feelings that they simply don’t know where else to turn or how to carry on. But by campaigning for better support to be in place, from both mental health services, and us, we can make a difference and save lives. And this Coronation Street storyline is another step towards raising awareness of mental health and suicide.

If you, or anyone you know, need someone to talk to, I can recommend The Samaritans. You can call them free any time, from any phone on 116 123and you don’t have to be suicidal to call them. They also have an email address if you don’t want to talk on the phone, although you won’t get an immediate response –

What are your thoughts on Aidan’s storyline? 

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