As mental health awareness week begins, the BBC serial has been working with Mind on Isaac Baptiste’s (Stevie Basaula) continuing storyline, highlighting the stigma that surrounds one of the least understood mental health diagnoses.
“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.” – Stevie Basaula who plays Isaac
Viewers first learnt of Isaac’s schizophrenia diagnosis in February as he clashed with his mother Sheree (Suzette Llewellyn) over her opposition to his budding romance with Lola (Danielle Harold).
Sheree was worried that her son may – upon revealing the truth – suffer a rejection which he would take badly. However, ignoring his mum’s pleas not to tell anyone, Isaac decided to share his diagnosis with Lola and his father Patrick (Rudolph Walker).
Although when the story was last in focus, Isaac made the decision to come off his medication as he began to ponder the possibility that he may have been misdiagnosed. Isaac took this step after gleaning from a conversation with Patrick that he is similar in some ways to his late brother Paul, who didn’t have schizophrenia.
In the coming weeks the audience will see Isaac dealing with stigmatising views from friends and family and how he manages his mental health on a daily basis as he begins to experience symptoms.
Sheree was against Isaac telling anyone about his diagnosis, fearing his reaction to being rejected
Isaac ignored his mum’s advice and told his girlfriend Lola about his diagnosis
Mind have provided research, guidance and workshops to the writers, producers and actors to help give an insight into the emotional and social experience of living with schizophrenia, particularly looking at attitudes towards mental health in African Caribbean communities.
Jon Sen, Executive Producer, EastEnders said: “Working with Mind has been 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. As his condition escalates, we’ll see how this affects him and his loved ones in the coming months and I’m looking forward to audiences following Isaac’s undoubtedly difficult yet eye-opening journey ahead with fantastic actors in Stevie, Suzette, Rudolph and Danielle at the helm.”
Mind’s work advising on the show drew both on the lived experience of Mind Media Volunteer, Antonio, who gave one-to-one feedback about his experiences of schizophrenia to Stevie Basaula (Isaac), as well as learnings from its Young Black Men programme.
The programme aims to increase understanding of mental health problems and how they intersect with race by offering tailored services created specifically with young Black men. Research has shown that black men are far more likely than others to be diagnosed with severe mental health problems.
Alex Bushill, Head of Media and PR at Mind added: “On screen fictional portrayals can drastically shift how we think, feel and behave in relation to our mental health. We know that mental health storylines in dramas, when they’re done well, help people to speak out, seek help and support each other. We know that schizophrenia is one of the most stigmatised and least understood mental health diagnosis and we applaud EastEnders’ efforts to accurately and sensitively portray it on the show.
“Through our Media Advisory Service, we have worked closely with the EastEnders team to ensure the depiction of a young Black man facing a mental health crisis was handled sensitively and portrayed accurately. Over this period our team delivered workshops, to the leading actors, provided feedback on scripts and met with producers to help build a greater understanding of what it’s actually like for Black men experiencing schizophrenia.
“We hope that this storyline will help raise awareness of schizophrenia, debunk some myths and challenge stereotypes. We hope that anyone watching the storyline who is experiencing a mental health problem feels encouraged to seek support.”
EastEnders airs Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday on BBC One. Times vary.
For help and support please visit www.mind.org.uk or call 0300 123 3393 (lines open 9am – 6pm, Monday – Friday)