Coronation Street’s Suicide Storyline Misses A Crucial Detail … Depression.
CONKER guest writer Yasmin Benoit discusses the damaging ramifications of portraying Aidan Connor’s suicide as a stand alone event, instead of a symptom of something bigger.
Television can be an amazing educative tool, and for years, soaps have used lives of their fictional but relatable characters to raise awareness for sensitive issues. Among the scandalous cheating, who-don-its and freak accidents during festive seasons, soaps try to tell stories that need to be told. Recently, Britain’s longest running soap, Coronation Street, has tackled sex trafficking, male rape, and psychosis … and that was just one family. Now, they’re doing something rare and provocative – they’re having one of their central characters, Aidan Connor, commit suicide.
With suicide being a leading cause of death for men in the UK, the storyline has been praised for raising awareness of male suicide. Unfortunately, it also poses the risk of diminishing the issue to a single act. Aidan’s storyline in Coronation Street is strictly a suicide storyline. As viewers, we do not witness the suicide itself, but the aftermath, and the pain that it causes his family and friends. The depression leading up to the suicide doesn’t seem to be part of the equation.
While one of the writers of Coronation Street claimed to have dropped ‘hints’ months ago that something was wrong with Aidan, viewers were not expected to have noticed. Consequently, it looks like Aidan’s issues appeared about an episode and a half before his death. Prior to that, there was no indication that Aidan was battling with any mental health problems. Arguably, this was to highlight that those who seem perfectly fine could be battling with suicidal thoughts, and that is certainly true. But is that as far as the ‘awareness’ goes?
People know that others commit suicide … the part people have trouble wrapping their heads around is why. It isn’t difficult to feel sympathy for their grieving relatives, but it is difficult to contemplate why someone would take their own life. Aidan Connor is meant to be an example of someone with ‘so much to live for’ who committed suicide out of nowhere – a simplistic, unhelpful narrative we have all heard before. The message Coronation Street is giving us is that people commit suicide out of nowhere, no one could have known that they were troubled, and nothing could have been done to help that person.
Those who have lost someone to suicide should not be left feeling like they should have done more, but the public should not receive the message that suicide exists in a vacuum. While incidences of suicide can seem ‘out of the blue’ for those who are left grieving for their loved one, the chances are that it is not for the person who took their own life. There are signs that even those close to a suicidal person could miss, signs that a suicidal person might not want them to see. However, Coronation Street is a television show, and that gives the writers a unique opportunity to provide insight into what a suicidal person is going through before they take their own life, outside of the gaze of the other characters.
Where was the escalation of Aidan’s depression? Where was his battle, his struggle, his triumphs and his stumbles? When the storyline has finished, will viewers be left thinking, “This man tried, now I can empathise with what people with depression are going through, I know what signs to look for, and I know that people with this issue should not be judged,” or are they thinking, “That’s weird, he had so much going on. Why would he leave his family behind? He made such a bad decision.”
In diminishing such a serious mental health issue into its final symptom, Coronation Street diminishes the battles that people with depression and other mental health conditions deal with on a daily basis. Not only that, but it is a huge missed opportunity to communicate a message that might actually save people’s lives. With David Platt’s post-traumatic stress storyline, following his rape ordeal, it is clear that the writers of Coronation Street know how to portray mental health storylines. It’s difficult to tell why they would simplify Aidan’s into a few punchy episodes with no mention of mental illness, but the term ‘plot device’ comes to mind.
Words by guest writer, Yasmin Benoit
Find anything wrong with this article? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.