When I was contacted by Time to Change about advising a TV series with an upcoming mental health story line I never imagined it would turn out to be EastEnders!
Contact was quickly made with the research team and many emails and phone calls were exchanged, the outcome of which was the Ian Beale breakdown story. My input was welcomed and I quickly realised that this was going to be something I could really help with; I could draw on my own experiences and do my bit to make sure that Ian's illness was portrayed accurately and as far as possible, realistic and believable.
Mental illness is a massive umbrella covering a vast array of different diagnoses. One of the biggest challenges in creating awareness of mental health issues is breaking down the stereotypical way people think when confronted with the term "mental illness" and Ian's breakdown is just one of so many different ways that the illness can manifest itself. My personal experience is of a mental breakdown and anxiety/depressive disorder and I could really empathise with the story.
Right from the start of my illness I was advised to start a blog, being as open and honest as I could, I was told it could prove to be very therapeutic, and it was. I wrote as often as I could - the good, the bad, and the indifferent. Eventually I plucked up the courage to share the blog with a few close friends and eventually it became even more public. Some of the entries (especially the very early ones) are quite painful to look back on, but that was me at the time, that was my life, and it helps me when I am having a bad day to look back and see where I was then and how far I have come since those dark horrible days.
One of my blog entries recalls an episode where I was walking along a dual carriageway completely lost and in total despair. As you can imagine I found it very tough to watch Ian do a very similar walk in the episode when his breakdown completely hit. I have to say that Adam Woodyatt who plays Ian played the part superbly well, the whole build up was acted brilliantly and the exit was outstanding in my opinion. Having seen some of the comments on social media sites it was also widely praised for being both moving and realistic.
My experience of helping out with the story was enormously positive, the people I was in contact with were superb and could not have been more supportive and understanding of the issues which they were portraying.
What next for Ian? Well, you will have to wait and see. I just hope that in some small way I have managed to do a little bit to make people see that mental health issues can affect anyone at any time and if this venture encourages just one or two people to challenge their pre-conceptions regarding mental health issues I will consider it a massive success.