Difficulties of Depicting Depression for TV and Film

As the ever popular soap series Coronation Street, gears up to tackle the intense story of depression in a character, so attention is drawn again to the challenge of depicting the illness sensitively and accurately.

TV and film has had a patchy history and relationship with depicting depression over the years but now there are more and more mental illness’ being portrayed, with ever increasing background knowledge to highlight the truths.

Depression, according to the Office of National Statistics, affects one in five adults in the UK, an astonishingly high figure.

Recently there has been a survey suggesting that watching characters with mental health problems have improved peoples understanding of these conditions. 48% of the survey sample said that the show had changed their opinion about “the sort of person who might experience such an illness”.

Despite the increasing understanding and positive reviews of the portrayal of depression it remains a very difficult illness to nail on screen. It is an abstract, internal ongoing battle in an individual’s mind. It is not easy, endearing or entertaining.

TV can be an easier platform to portray depression as the character builds, or breaks down, over a longer period of time building a psychological profile of the character. Coronation Streets producer added the following; “In the real world, Steve’s story would probably last a decade but we can’t play it out that long. We will get to the stage where the ‘old Steve’ is back but he’ll [still be] living and coping with it. It would be an insult to people with depression otherwise ... I’m going to hold my nerve and take as long as is needed.”

Of course depression is different for everyone and there is no one way to get it right. Films are more often criticised that TV for getting it wrong… ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ opted to dwell on the more drama-friendly mania of ‘Pat’ whilst gently skimming over the depression of another character. Both depictions seemingly serving to reduce mental illness to ‘a kooky personality trait’. Furthermore there are comparisons between beginning a new relationship and professional treatment. This film perhaps highlights the errors in trying to entertain rather than making an audience endure an uncomfortable watch of the real battles endured internally.

Finally Blackburn adds; “I hope that because Steve is an everyman character, that there are Steve’s in everyone’s family, we can make a lot more people go, ‘oh, right’… So I hope, in a tiny way, this story can change the world a little bit for the better. Progress has been made, but on a scale of one to 100, we’re maybe at 10.”