Hollyoaks has been exploring mid-life depression amongst males with two of its best-loved characters, Darren and Kyle, one of whom will lose his battle with the illness.
While the storyline began before the pandemic, charities have stressed the current importance of highlighting suicide prevention.
Suicide prevention campaigner Angela Samata said: “A rise in the number of suicides during and after this time of global crisis is not inevitable - if people reach out and are given the help they need.”
A new study published in the journal medRxiv in April 2020 reports that the pandemic is associated with increased anxiety and depression in UK adults experiencing isolation.
The Samaritans also reported that men are less likely to seek professional help for their mental health and three times more likely to take their own lives. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50.
Kyle Kelly, played by Adam Rickitt, will tragically take his own life in the lead up to his wedding to Nancy. Hollyoaks will not play out Kyle’s death on screen, but the aftermath of his loss will be explored as Kyle’s friends and family come to terms with the news and the effect the bereavement has on their children and Nancy.
In December 2018, Hollyoaks won the ‘Making A Difference’ Award at the MIND Media Awards, which celebrate the best possible representations of mental health by the media. In April the storyline was supported on social platforms with a ‘month of listening’ to help provide tools to support people in difficulty with their mental health.
Executive producer Bryan Kirkwood says “Hollyoaks’ writing team have been laying the building blocks of Darren and Kyle’s individual stories for some time, carefully exploring the nuances that comes from two men living with depression in two very different ways. There is no face to male suicide, and we wanted to highlight the ways in which depression can manifest itself with two of our much-loved characters.
“By telling this storyline Hollyoaks would like to highlight the importance of creating an environment to listen, giving those who need it the time to talk.”
Hollyoaks actor, Adam Rickitt said “When I first heard about the storyline, I was excited as an actor to be able to portray such a dramatic journey, and pride that the team had entrusted me to do it. There was also a sense of personal fear. Like all too many I had to walk a similar path in my lifetime and the idea of revisiting that, even in the world of fiction, was slightly daunting.
“In truth though it became an incredibly empowering experience. The sensitivity and heart that the writers put into the story really shone through, and at a time like now, more than ever, I think we need to be highlighting just this sort of issue.
As sad as I am to say goodbye to Kyle, I have loved being a part of Hollyoaks. It's been a fantastic show to work on. To be able to leave telling a story that is so important and so challenging is more than I could ever have asked for, and like me, I hope viewers will find strength in its telling.”
Angela Samata, suicide prevention campaigner said: “Hollyoaks places real life lived experience at the heart of their storylines ensuring that actors and scriptwriters give an accurate and sensitive depiction of a very real issue. Suicide is an extremely challenging subject. For many even saying the word is difficult. By telling Kyle and Darren’s story I feel that Hollyoaks is playing an essential role in raising awareness, challenging the stigma around suicide and encouraging a demographic at risk to reach out for help and support.”
" At the Hub Of Hope, the national free mental health signposting app, we've seen a 230% increase in use during lockdown. That tells me that people are reaching out and looking for the right help and support for themselves and others.”
Mental Health Campaigner, Josh Connolly said “In the current situation, this conversation becomes more important than ever, and what stands Hollyoaks apart is their ability to not just deliver a difficult message, but to create a space that allows it's audience to better explore themselves.
“Right now, a lot of people are experiencing some difficult emotions, and the Hollyoaks team recognise the compassion and sensitivity needed to unpack a topic still otherwise avoided.”
Aimee Gee, Head of Media and PR at Mind said: “Through our media advisory service, we worked closely with the Hollyoaks team to ensure the depictions of male depression and suicide were handled sensitively and portrayed accurately.
Our team delivered workshops to the leading actors, provided feedback on scripts and met with producers to help build a greater understanding.
We hope that these storylines will help raise awareness of depression and the different ways it can affect people, and that anyone watching who is experiencing a mental health problem feels encouraged to seek support.”
The Hollyoaks cast and producers visited and worked closely with James’ Place, a unique centre for emergency male mental health, based in Liverpool, to guide the process for this vital storyline.
Hollyoaks also planned to film a help and support video at the centre, which had to be postponed due to current circumstances. The centre continues to operate and provide support online, via their website - https://www.jamesplace.org.uk/
Jane Boland, Centre Manager at James’ Place said: “We are so pleased that Hollyoaks consulted with us to create this storyline. At James’ Place, we know that men facing a suicidal crisis can get out of it, with the right help. It’s important for all of us to feel confident to ask straightforward questions when someone we care about is struggling We believe that no one should face a suicidal crisis alone. If you are feeling hopeless, reach out, help is available.”