I was watching Waterloo Road last night (10/12/2014) and it became apparent that there was a mental health storyline in the episode. I think it is great to have mental health storylines and characters who have a diagnosis of a mental illness on TV because it helps to start conversations and raise awareness but also these programmes have a lot of power. Thousands of people from all walks of life sit down to watch Waterloo Road, that gives the writers and directors a lot of power to help challenge stereotypes and stamp out stigma but last night I felt as though they abused this power leaving only negativity. It was very irresponsible and quite frankly damaging.
The storyline was that Mandy, a 22 year old, had escaped from the mental health unit and ended up at Waterloo Road’s community cafe. She seemed to cling on to Leo and would suddenly hit or headbutt people and repeat something along the lines of “Bullies get what’s coming to them”. Leo and Mandy went back to Leo’s house and Mandy suddenly smashed something out of nowhere and then trashed the whole room before hiding in the bathroom with a pair of scissors…it was implied that she was threatening Leo with them. Leo’s Dad found them and a police car arrived and that was the very abrupt end of the storyline. If Mandy had not told Leo that she had Borderline Personality Disorder then I would’ve had no idea that she had it because her behaviour did not reflect BPD, in fact I find it quite offensive. I once had the label of Borderline Personality Disorder stuck on me, although this changed to Avoidant Personality Disorder with borderline and obsessive compulsive traits. Not only do I have personal experience of the illness but I have been in hospital with other sufferers and also have a few friends that suffer from BPD.
On top of the fact that the storyline was factually incorrect and damaging to people who suffer from BPD, there was also no helpline at the end of the programme. There wasn’t a message saying “If you have been affected by anything in tonight’s programme….” etc. It is a shame because the BBC could’ve done great things with a Borderline Personality Disorder plot, it’s a very misunderstood illness with very little air time in the media. It could’ve been great but they skimmed over it, didn’t give it an appropriate and educational ending, no helplines were provided and her behaviour reflected a sterotypical/misunderstood mental health patient.
The True Picture Of Borderline Personality Disorder
I feel it is important to try and undo some of the negative, damaging work that has been done by Waterloo Road.
There are many different types of personality disorder, borderline is one of them. Borderline does not mean that someone is bordering on a personality disorder, it is the name of this particular personality disorder which is sometimes referred to as ’emotionally unstable personality disorder’.
Symptoms of BPD can include:
- Emotions that are up and down. Sufferers may wake up in the morning feeling confident but that evening be feeling despair. Often sufferers experience feelings of anger and emptiness.
- Overwhelming feelings of distress, worthlessness or anxiety.
- Difficulty in managing feelings.
- Difficulty in making and maintaining relationships.
- An unstable sense of self, for example changing behaviour depending on who the sufferer is with.
- Taking risks without thinking about the consequences.
- Self harm, or thoughts of self harming.
- Fear of abandonment or rejection.
- Sometimes sufferers may experience delusions or hallucinations.
Often people diagnosed with BPD suffer with other mental health problems, such as, eating disorders, depression, anxiety or substance misuse.
Whilst BPD can be a very serious condition with 60-70% of sufferers attempting suicide at some point, there are treatments out there including dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), psychotherapy and therapeutic communties. Medication can also help.
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