EastEnders tackles schizophrenia stigma with help from Mind charity

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image captionIsaac Baptiste has been played by actor Stevie Basaula since last year

EastEnders has been working with the mental health charity Mind on a storyline focusing on schizophrenia, producers confirmed on Monday.

The BBC soap asked Mind to offer insight into the experiences of its character Isaac Baptiste - a black man grappling with the physical and social issues associated with the condition.

Actor Stevie Basaula has said it's "a privilege" to help tell his story.

The announcement coincides with the start of Mental Health Awareness Week.

The show's hook-up with the charity was designed to help the actors, producers and writers learn more about "the emotional and social experience of living with schizophrenia, particularly looking at attitudes towards mental health in African Caribbean communities," EastEnders bosses said.

Mind research suggests black men are far more likely than others to be diagnosed with severe mental health problems, and are also far more likely to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

However, up until 11-years-old, black boys don't have poorer mental health than others of their age.

Mind says there are multiple reasons for this including stigma, cultural barriers, and systemic discrimination, all of which are more directly experienced by black boys and young black men as they get older.

The ongoing storyline is, over the coming weeks, intended to encourage "vital conversations about the realities of living with a mental health problem".

What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a severe long-term mental health condition. It causes a range of different psychological symptoms.

Doctors often describe schizophrenia as a type of psychosis. This means the person may not always be able to distinguish their own thoughts and ideas from reality.

Symptoms can include hallucinations, delusions, muddled thoughts and a loss of interest in everyday activities.

Schizophrenia does not cause someone to be violent and people with schizophrenia do not have a split personality.

Source: NHS

For the role, Basaula drew on the real life experiences of a Mind volunteer named Antonio, as well as lessons from Mind's Young Black Men programme.

He described the storyline as being one that is "very close to my heart".

"I hope it will start a dialogue for people to have conversations about mental health and that anyone living with the condition will feel seen," said the actor.

"Working with Mind has been so useful, I spoke to a young man who bravely shared his story and it was inspiring to learn how he's managing his condition."

image captionIsaac will question his own diagnosis and abruptly stop taking his medication

He added: "There's so much we think we know about schizophrenia, but it's often not the reality for people living with the condition.

"I hope that anyone engaging with Isaac's story will gain a better understanding and can approach someone they know that may be struggling from a more positive place."

Viewers have already seen Isaac share his diagnosis with his dad Patrick, and his mum Sheree's resistance to him making it public knowledge - due to fears around stigmatising views from friends and family.

Isaac's own fears around the circumstances of his brother's death and his dad taking part in a medical trial will lead to him to questioning his own diagnosis and abruptly stopping taking his medication.

EastEnders executive producer Jon Sen said that working with the charity was "imperative in ensuring we tell Isaac's story truthfully".

"There's a multitude of layers to this storyline and Mind's expertise has been crucial as we explore Isaac's experience," said Sen.

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