Coronation Street’s Carla Connor Demonstrates How Fragile the Human Mind Really Is
According to recent data, one in six adults experiences symptoms of a common mental health problem, such as anxiety or depression, and one in five adults has considered taking their own life at some point. Despite an increase in people accessing treatment, around a third of all people With a mental health problem have neglected to seek professional assistance.
The stigma attached to mental health problems and a growing belief that seeking treatment amounts to “showing weakness” are among the barriers to diagnoses and treatment. ITV’s Coronation Street has worked to remove the stigma attached to mental health issues, through character storylines, including a recent depression-turned-psychotic episode involving actress Ali King’s “Carla Connor.”
For mental health professionals, King’s performance highlighted the oft-overlooked anxieties that cause professional women to walk a tightrope above mental overload.
“Carla Connor has been burning the candle at both ends for nearly a decade and viewers have watched her get knocked down, fall down, struggle — and naturally assume, as the characters on the show — that she will simply get over the next ‘hit,’” psychologist Miriam Okeah told Acumen. “Alarms don’t necessarily sound when a woman whom others consider powerful, beautiful, or gifted shows signs of mental fatigue.”
Okeah said Corrie writers brought this point home by having several characters make light of Connor’s disappearance despite the suicide of her brother, the loss of family support, and her own previous suicide attempts. Coronation Street took an innovative approach to documenting Connor’s mindset by airing a standalone episode from inside her mind — allowing viewers a peek into her fears and the fragmentation of her thoughts.
“That episode was very compelling and quite frightening because like many fans of the show, I’d watched Carla brush things off and run back into the fray so many times,” Corrie fan Joy Frazier told Acumen. “Watching her slow, progressive decline made me consider how many people around me everyday may also be in need of a word of kindness, a shoulder, a hug, or some prayer.”
Frazier also noted how uneasy Connor’s psychosis made some viewers, who took to social media, asking that producers “hurry” through the storyline.
“Mental health is not just about the individual person, but about the entire orbit of family, colleagues, neighbors and friends who are navigating that person’s crisis,” Okeah said. “We see Carla’s best friend Michelle, and her fathers (Roy and Johnny) grappling with how to read her behavior. They needed support as well. We also get the amazing Chris Gascoyne as her partner, Peter Barlow, who acts as lone and aggressive advocate for her diagnosis and treatment. His type of dedication, including reading up on how to help her, can make the difference in patient outcomes. I was very pleased by the show depicting this.”
In the United States, almost half of adults (46.4 percent) will experience a mental illness during their lifetime. Five percent of adults (18 or older) experience a mental illness in any one year, equivalent to 43.8 million people. Additionally, of adults in the United States with any mental disorder in a one-year period, 14.4 percent have one disorder, 5.8 percent have two disorders and 6 percent have three or more.
On the heels of World Health Day, (10 October) consider learning more about how best to recognize your own patterns of behavior and need for assistance -- as well as tips for helping loved ones and friends. No man is an island and each of us needs help every now and again. Help someone living with mental health insecurity using Mental Health First Aid ALGEE action steps, each of which played out during Coronation Street's story line of Carla Connor's breakdown:
ASSESS for risk of suicide or harm: To start, you’ll want to identify if they’re in a crisis. If they’re experiencing an extreme level of anxiety, a panic attack, non-suicidal self injury or suicidal thoughts, address that particular crisis first. Corrie Scene: Peter Barlow at Underworld site persuading Carla into medical center; Toyah Battersby performing a mental health assessment at the medical center.
LISTEN non-judgmentally: If the person isn’t in a crisis, ask how they’re feeling and how long they’ve been feeling that way. Be patient and engaged while they speak. Ask clarifying questions and use minimal prompts – like “I see” – to keep them talking. Pay attention and show that you care. Corrie Scene: Peter caring for Carla in Roy Cropper's flat -- engaging with Carla and serving as intermediary between Carla and others visiting her.
GIVE reassurance and information: Your support can have a huge impact on the person. Sometimes it will be difficult – the person might want to give up trying to find help or might get frustrated during the process – but if you’re kind, genuine and persistent, you can help sway them. Maintain positive language – don’t blame them for their illness or symptoms. Remind them that recovery is possible and that you’ll be there for them along the way. Corrie Scene: Peter Barlow (and by extension, the Barlow and Connor clans) attempting to support Carla before her psychotic episode and treatment.
ENCOURAGE appropriate professional help: If it appears professional assistance might be needed, offer to help the person understand their options for professional help. Primary care physicians, mental health professionals, psychiatrists and certified peer specialists are all possibilities for getting support with anxiety disorders. Corrie Scene: Roy Cropper calling in reinforcements from professional health team when Carla returns home after going missing.
ENCOURAGE the person to explore these options, offer to help them research to choose the best option and keep them motivated throughout the process. Corrie Scene: Peter Barlow researching "life after psychosis" to determine how best he could help Carla after she returned home.