Hollyoaks are tackling the topic of group self-harm among teenagers, with the climax of tonight’s E4 episode showing Lily Drinkwell, Yasmine Maalik and Peri Lomax forming a pact to cut themselves in secret as they struggle with their insecurities.
The shocking development came as Peri and Yas discovered Lily had been committing acts of self-harm in private for months, and threatened to expose her.
But during tonight’s installment, focused entirely on the hard-hitting storyline, Lily opened up to her classmates about why she has started to hurt herself leading Peri and Yas to cover for their friend and lie to their parents after headteacher Sally St Claire hauled them all in to school to confront them with her suspicions one of the girls was self-harming.
As Lily hid away in her bedroom with her friends, the troubled Ms Drinkwell was stunned to hear Peri admit to struggling with her own insecurities and confess she had cut herself for the first time earlier that day – and that she wants to continue. Lily felt someone finally understood her emotional state and as Peri manipulated Yasmine into also doing it, the three girls made a pact to self-harm together in secret.
“The idea of covering group self-harming among teenagers was pitched at a story conference,” says Bryan Kirkwood, Hollyoaks’ executive producer. “We’d never heard of it and when we did the research we realised this very toxic development among young people was on the rise but it wasn’t being talked about – despite mental health issues reaching epic proportions.
“In an age of social media where people want to present an image of perfection at the school gates, we wanted to tell the story and give a voice to it.”
Kirkwood reiterates the show’s responsibility to its core young audience, and how this subject in particular is relevant to the demographic. “People can be cynical about millennials, how they have everything at their fingertips and the instant gratification, but it puts a pressure on young people today. That’s why mental health has become this crisis and why people are turning to self-harm and destructive behaviour.”
The pressure is something Lauren McQueen, who plays Lily, feels is key to her character’s journey. “Lily’s auntie Diane tells her niece she’s this perfect, intelligent young girl who loves studying, but she’s unwittingly putting more pressure on her. It’s sad but realistic, as is the fact the mums don’t know what’s going on.
“There is such a pressure for perfection, like with Instagram and social media. It’s sad because nobody’s perfect and we shouldn’t have to hide that.”
Lily’s storyline has been running since the summer, meaning McQueen was already immersed in research about her character cutting herself – was Haiesha Mistry (Yasmine) daunted at the prospect of becoming involved in the plot as the group self-harming begins?
“It’s a heavy, sensitive topic and I hadn’t heard of the group self-harming before,” she admits. “I started the research and you want to get it right, but I just thought ‘wow, they’re trusting me with this!, Once we got the amazing script for this special episode we knew we were going to do it justice.
“Even the way the episode was shot was different, you see the same scene from the different points of view of the girls and then their mothers. We had a new camera which made the close-ups really dramatic to properly get inside the characters’ heads.”
The powerful scene between Mistry, McQueen and Ruby O’Donnell (Peri) on Lily’s bed as they group harm for the first time also gives Mistry an opportunity to explore new sides of her cocky character.
“When Yas finds out what Lily is doing it’s a big deal and you see a different side to her. That cocky front is stripped away and she tries to understand why Lily is doing this to herself.
“Filming that scene was really emotional for the three of us, I well up every time I see it. Yasmine was bullied in her old school for having a heart condition which hardened her up and made her a bully, but this storyline shows she is still a vulnerable teenager herself.”
Discussing the future of the thought-provoking plot, McQueen reveals Yasmine will struggle with keeping the girls’ tragic secret, and that things will get worse before they get better…
“As it continues and the girls meet up to do it again, Yasmine will say you need to stop this and actually pretends to self-harm, unbeknown to Lily and Peri. She’s completely against it and doesn’t understand it.”
“This creates conflict in the group,” continues Mistry. “Peri is closer to Lily now which Yasmine doesn’t like and the rift escalates. Yasmine tries to get them to stop and see sense, but there’s a long way to go for the three of them.”
Hollyoaks continues weeknights on E4 at 7pm and on Channel 4 at 6.30pm.
Watch a special support video on Lily’s story made in conjunction with Samaritans, MIND and the NSPCC below: