EastEnders star: It's time to ditch unhealthy attitudes to mental health

EastEnders fans can currently see Stevie Basaula at the centre of a storyline which sees Isaac Baptiste ditching his schizophrenia medication – after which, the show will explore the symptoms of his illness and the attitudes it creates around him.

Having had personal experience with a friend having psychosis, it’s a story Stevie is determined to get right and he joined us for a chat for our Mental Health Awareness Week takeover project.

Here, he discusses the importance of being open about mental health and the techniques he uses to preserve his own mental wellbeing as well as discussing Isaac’s story.

Did you know the storyline was going this way when you joined?

No. I’m not sure how long it’s been on the cards, but it was presented to me at the end of last year.

How did you feel? Did you want to grab it with both hands or was it intimidating?

I think it was a mixture of both those feelings. I was definitely intimidated and nervous because it’s a subject you don’t want to get wrong. It’s also the thought of ‘can I do this as an actor?’ but in the end I realised it’s not about me, it’s about representing that community and people with diagnosis like schizophrenia in the hopes that this will get rid of the stigma and give people a real understanding of what it’s like to live with a mental health problem.

Is it important that EastEnders shows a response to outdated stereotypes?

Yes definitely. I want to really explore how Isaac feels when he begins to share his diagnosis with more people. We really want to explore how stigma can have such an impact on a person’s relationship with their own diagnosis.

How has the support from Mind helped?

Mind have been so helpful, from the beginning of the process to present day. They have spoken to our researchers, writers and our director to help make sure we’re accurately depicting schizophrenia. I spoke with a young man called Antonio who has a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

His story really moved me and it showed me that even with a serious mental health problem you can live a full life and be charismatic, fun and intelligent. It helped me to understand that having a mental health problem doesn’t define you.

I have had some personal experiences with mental health problems – a friend of mine experienced psychosis. It’s great that we’re speaking more about mental health problems and helping each other to understand them better.

Will EastEnders explore how Isaac’s situation impacts those around him?

Yeah, if you live with him, work with him, love him, they’re all affected by what happens to him. When he stops taking his medication – it’s important to show how that impacts not only Isaac, but his family and friends.

Are you proud to be part of this story?

I am so proud I have been trusted to be part of this story. I hope people do have conversations after seeing Isaac’s story, and that people who have schizophrenia feel seen and understood. So many people have been affected by mental health problems, and I hope this helps to push conversations forward.

It’s great to have been able to work with Mind on this, I feel very personally and professionally invested in making sure we represent people those affected both accurately and sensitively.

What does Mental Health Awareness mean to you and would you say there is still a way to go?

Absolutely! More needs to be done, there is so much stigma around mental health, especially with men. I have friends who just don’t speak about their feelings at all and just say everything’s fine. The more people talk, the more people will feel comfortable opening up about their experiences.

I’m aware that therapy can be lifechanging as an outlet too, I know people find talking to someone separate from their friends and family can be really helpful with gaining perspective and different methods for managing things. It’s something we should have in schools – ways to talk about and deal with life.

I hope we can get away from unhealthy attitudes like men having to ‘man up’. We need to be taught to look after both our minds and bodies, especially after the year we’ve just had.

It’s been quite a year – what ways do you have of looking after your mental wellbeing and self-care?

Going to the gym helps me or going for a long run – it clears my head. I skip a lot – you can do it anywhere, just stand there and skip. Tenner for a rope, that’s all it costs and it’s also a great way to get clarity as your mind is focused on the task at hand. So the gym, exercise and most importantly, talking. Being able to speak about your emotions honestly is absolutely vital.

There are some amazing services available that are free, can be trusted and are totally confidential – if you feel like you have no one to talk to in a low moment they can help you process your emotions, get those thoughts out there.

The Samaritan’s and Mind both have phone-lines that are free to use and can point you in the right direction. I know Mind has tailored services for young black men too, I hope more young people will begin to use these services as they’re there to help and support you.

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Metro.co.uk MHAW Takeover

This year, to mark Mental Health Awareness Week, Metro.co.uk has invited eight well-known mental health advocates to take over our site.

With a brilliant team that includes Alex Beresford, Russell Kane, Frankie Bridge, Anton Ferdinand, Sam Thompson, Scarlett Moffatt, Katie Piper and Joe Tracini, each of our guest editors have worked closely with us to share their own stories, and also educate, support and engage with our readers.

If you need help or advice for any mental health matter, here are just some of the organisations that were vital in helping us put together our MHAW Takeover:

  • Mental Health Foundation
  • Rethink Mental Illness
  • Samaritans
  • Mind

To contact any of the charities mentioned in the Metro.co.uk MHAW Takeover click here

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