Emmerdale star Kelvin Fletcher has said that soap operas have a responsibility to tackle sensitive subject matters like suicide.
An emotional episode to be shown on Thursday will see Fletcher’s character Andy Sugden make plans to take his own life following the shock death of his wife Katie. But the actor believes that continuing dramas shouldn’t shy away from tough topics.
“Soaps do have a responsibility not just to create drama and entertain, but to also highlight various problems and issues that we go through every day,” Fletcher commented to RadioTimes.com. “Even though it’s sometimes seen as an escape to sit down at 7 o’clock to watch Emmerdale, there’s often a lot of advice that can be offered in a show like ours. To show people the right path to take. There’s a preconception with mental health problems that they’re like something out of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. So I’m very pleased that Emmerdale is using an everyman character like Andy to tell this story.”
Figures published last year by the Office for National Statistics stated that the male suicide rate in the UK was three and a half times that of women in the year 2012, with 4,500 male suicides registered, compared with 1,391 female. The highest suicide rate was among men aged 40-44, at 25.9 deaths per 100,000.
“On the outside, you might think that a person has their whole life to live and the support network of a family around them. So why would they want to take their own life? The fact that Andy is contemplating suicide shows the complex and tragic nature of the whole topic,” continued Fletcher. “I’m very glad that it’s being highlighted using someone who you might least expect it to be affecting. Andy is certainly a step away from the stereotypes.”
Using the medium of pre-watershed soaps to tackle the issue of suicide can be fraught with difficulty though. EastEnders courted controversy back in the 1980s when it showed Angie Watts attempting to take her own life, while Hayley Cropper’s right-to-die plight on Coronation Street sparked copycat fears when it was broadcast last year.
“Discussions go on all the time between our series producer Kate Oates and her team about storylines that can cause controversy. And I have every confidence that they’ve dealt with the topic with the sensitivity it deserves,” added Fletcher. “But I also think that the viewers watching have a responsibility – certain subjects can be a little bit sensitive for people to take and if they feel that it’s too much for their little ones or whoever’s watching, then they can turn it off.”
However, the actor expressed a hope that there would be a warm reception for the emotive instalments of the ITV soap. “It can help people if you shine a light on subjects like this. It ends up becoming less of a taboo and people who are suffering start to feel that they have someone to talk to.
“I think the storyline is very thought provoking, not just in the way it deals with the topic of suicide, but also in the way it portrays Andy’s journey through bereavement. I’m a big believer in highlighting cases such as this and Emmerdale has done itself justice with the way the storyline has been tackled.”