EastEnders' bipolar story helps young seek advice

By Brandice Alexander
Newsbeat reporter

Image source, bbc
Image caption,
EastEnders character Stacey Slater highlighted the problems of bipolar sufferers

The number of 18 to 24-year-olds seeking help for bipolar disorder has doubled in the past six months, according to doctors.

The number of young people calling helplines went from around 400 a day to an average of more than 800.

MDF, The BiPolar Organisation, believe it's down to the storyline in BBC One soap EastEnders featuring the character Stacey Slater.

Bipolar is a mental disorder which affects more than half a million people in the UK.

It makes people's mood go from very low, making you feel depressed, to extreme highs known as mania and is often diagnosed between the ages of 18 and 24.

'Happy chemicals'

Twenty-two-year-old Gary from Lincoln is bipolar but was wrongly diagnosed with depression at first.

"When I was diagnosed with depression I was glad that the doctors thought they knew what was wrong with me," he said.

"I was given antidepressants. I would've preferred speech therapy though. The antidepressants made me really high. I had too much energy.

"Everything fascinated me. I just ended up overdoing it and then hitting a low again.

"The antidepressants weren't right for me, it was like being fed a load of happy chemicals."

Eventually Gary received the right diagnosis at 19.

"Now I take antidepressants as well as mood stabilisers," he said.

"The idea is to get the right balance but sometimes it feels like someone's ripping my brain out my head within an hour of taking it.

"At my worst I even lose interest in playing on my PlayStation, listening to music. Every single kind of interest just disappears.

"You wonder, 'What's the point in carrying on in life?' I'm mentally low but physically I'm so energetic and that's when it can get quite scary because I am more likely to act on suicidal thoughts and self-harm.

Positive portrayal

"One time I took my bike and cycled in the middle of the night for about five or six hours.

"Something like EastEnders - it's really big. A lot of people watch, so I think it's great that a character that I enjoy watching is portraying an illness that I have myself. It's very positive, definitely."

Image source, bbc
Image caption,
Lacey Turner said she found filming some scenes hard

EastEnders star Lacey Turner has won several awards for her role as Stacey Slater and for her portrayal of battling with bipolar disorder.

She admitted she had never heard of the illness before her character developed it.

She said: "There were some days when it was hard.

"You're either really down because you've been doing scenes where you've been down all day or you're really hyper so you don't know when you leave work whether you're going to want to bounce off the walls or go straight to bed."

Script writers worked very closely with experts in the field to ensure they portrayed the mental disorder realistically.

MDF The BiPolar Organisation said: "Calls doubled since EastEnders started the bipolar storyline with Stacey Slater.

"Having complex bipolar issues put in front of eight million viewers four times a week can only increase public health education.

"In turn this will lead to greater understanding and early intervention of this illness."

The BDRN (Bipolar Disorder Research Network) said that during the EastEnders Revealed episode of Stacey being bipolar they had 8,536 visitors to their website within 48 hours.

Both organisations are focussing on bipolar and pregnancy now that the character Stacey Slater is pregnant in the soap.

They hope as the storyline continues a lot of the stigma surrounding the mental illness will go away and hopefully more more young people will come forward to get help.

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