I’ve been where Steve McDonald is right now; and it is, without a doubt, the worst thing that I have ever felt. Even though it is estimated that a massive 1 in every 3 of us will experience first hand some form of mental health issue, there is still an alarming amount of education and awareness required on the matter of depression and anxiety.
That is why I couldn’t be more proud of Britain’s top soap, Coronation Street, for tackling this issue head on with the sensitivity, honesty and realism that it is currently expressing. Those millions of you who read my soap musings both here and on social media will know that I have been fairly critical of Coronation Street over the last few months. But where it has been lacking in other areas, it has more than redeemed itself in this particular storyline.
For quite some time, and very subtly, we have seen Steve struggle with his moods to the point where he currently finds himself at; thoroughly sapped of the joy and energy that the character is famous for. Simon Gregson is playing a blinder of a performance with this story he’s been given; it is a huge challenge to portray accurately but I recognise so much in Steve. From the blocking out of important everyday worries to the emptiness in his eyes and the lost expression on his face, Steve is a broken man. And yet, the regular comments and tweets I am seeing from people saying ‘What is even wrong with Steve?’ and ‘Steve needs to man up and pull himself together’ proves that many people still don’t really understand the horrendous effects depression can have on the sufferer and on the people around them.
The people tweeting ‘Carla has been through much worse and you don’t see her going on like Steve.’ are not being malicious or tactless; it’s just that there is still a genuine stigma around metal health that perceives people who are overcome by depression as being weak. As Corrie is setting out to prove, that is far from the case. Steve isn’t just being miserable or feeling sorry for himself; he is ill. And that illness is preventing him from feeling any pleasure or hope in life. He is being swallowed by a darkness that really cannot be described in words and it is heart-rending to watch.
The haunting beauty of this story is the fact it is showing that depression can hit anybody and it can take a long time to realise what is actually going on. Steve was only just diagnosed this week; his perception of what he has been feeling is that he is useless. He is often portrayed as a bit of a gormless lump who makes silly mistakes and acts the clown and it is easy to forget that those who make us laugh have human feelings too. That’s why Steve has been such an inspired choice to carry this story.
Who would have thought Steve McDonald would suffer depression? Well, exactly. There are many people out there with smiles on their faces and telling jokes that could be feeling this way. And it can only be a good thing that an influential show such as Coronation Street are opening people’s minds to this.
Michelle and Liz’s reactions to Steve’s behaviour are spot on with how many people behave in such a situation. Telling someone to pull themselves together or to stop being selfish will never work but again, it is through lack of understanding, not malice, that they are taking this approach. Coronation Street will do two things through this: firstly, they will make some people feeling like Steve sit up and take note of what could be wrong with them and encourage them to seek support as well as making them realise they aren’t selfish, weak or pathetic. And, secondly, it will make others sit and think ‘My God, do I sound like Michelle? Maybe I should try a different approach.’
Both outcomes are a positive step forward. I can’t tear my eyes off of this story and often it’s a bit close to home for me, but that is just evidence that the writing and acting that is going into this is simply spot on. Steve has a long journey ahead of him and I know Corrie will do it justice and show that it won’t be easy and it won’t be fixed overnight.
At the same time though, I am hoping that they will show that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for Steve, as there is for anyone suffering depression. And the more we are encouraged to talk about it, the more people can reach that light.
And, speaking from experience, there is no bigger relief than having that dark cloud lifted from you.
If you have been affected by this story in any way, contact Mind Charity on 0300 123 3393 or visit http://www.mind.org.uk for confidential and free support.
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