What should poor Helen from The Archers do now?

It was nice to get such a lot of interest in my blog about whether it was Helen or Rob Titchenor who needed to see a psychiatrist. As they are both fictional characters, it felt OK to surmise about their relative states of mental health, and also to remind people who were getting excited on Facebook and Twitter that having a mental illness is not a character flaw.

But right now, Helen is in turmoil. And because the writers, the producers and the actress have created someone people care about, there is a lot of advice flying around – to Helen herself, to her friend Kirsty, to her parents Pat and Tony, to her odious mother-in-law Ursula and to her abusing control-freak husband Rob. I realise that the scripts have already been written and the recordings made weeks ago, but nonetheless, here are my thoughts. They can’t help Helen, but they might help someone like her. Or their children, family and friends.

Should Kirsty break her promise and tell Pat that Rob hit Helen?

No. Because Helen has only just started to confide in her. It is really important for women who are abused by their partners not to experience what might feel like abuse from others. Helen is not in immediate danger. The best thing Kirsty can do is be there for her, listen to her and gently help her work out what to do for herself. It helps that Kirsty has sought advice from a domestic abuse website such as the wonderful Rise UK . It is important that Kirsty stays calm, despite how angry and upset she feels. There may come a time when she has to break her word, but not now.

Why hasn’t Helen’s psychiatrist done something already?

Again, it is vital to build trust. If the psychiatrist is doing their job properly, they will be carrying out a careful assessment of Helen. This should include checking for signs of abuse. I just hope they don’t allow Helen’s history of previous mental illness to mislead them. It is one of the curses for people who, from time to time, experience mental illness, that they can become defined by their medical history rather than it simply being a small part of who they are.

Isn’t it a good thing that mother-in-law-from-hell Ursula is going home?

I’m not sure. While Ursula is truly ghastly, she does offer some degree of protection from Rob’s more diabolical deeds. As far as we know, she isn’t the one who has been tampering with ovens and bathwater, hiding things or messing up orders at the shop so that Helen has started to doubt her own sanity.

What should Pat, Tony and Tom be doing?

They should also be listening to Helen, which means not necessarily believing everything they see or hear. And they should talk to each other and give voice to the individual concerns they are undoubtedly keeping buried under the surface. Family secrets are rarely a good thing.

But then they should be careful not to approach her together, as that could feel like ganging up. I think Tom might be the one most likely to gain her trust. Pat and Tony should make it clear that they are always there for her, no matter what has happened.

And finally, they should avoid recriminations and guilt. None of this is anyone’s fault. Except Rob’s.

Surely the idea of Henry being sent away to boarding school will bring Helen to her senses?

That’s a comment I read on Twitter. It is unkind and judgemental. Helen is vulnerable, abused and unable to think clearly. The chances are, Rob will make her believe that the pain of sending Henry away is something else she must bear for the greater good. But it could well be the trigger for Pat and Tony to stop trying to convince themselves that Rob is a wonderful husband and stepfather. Because whilst there are those who extol the benefits of boarding school, Pat and Tony are unlikely to be amongst them, especially not for their beloved five year old grandson.

What will happen to the evil Rob Titchenor?

Who knows? If life were fair, he would be prosecuted under the new laws covering psychological domestic abuse. He would go to prison, where he would get help to recognise that his own narcissistic tendencies are not only hurting other people, they are also damaging to him.

But life isn’t always fair. The chances are, Rob will somehow get away with having nearly ruined Helen and Henry’s lives, wrecked Charlie’s career, punched the saboteur, damaged Adam and Ian’s relationship, plus whatever he really did in the flood. And anyway he will be part of Helen’s life forever because of the baby, not to mention the claims he will undoubtedly make on her inheritence.

So we will have plenty more opportunities to discuss him on social media.

Surely this storyline has gone on too long? It’s making me distressed/mentally ill myself.

I disagree. Domestic abuse and mental illness are commonplace. If soaps were realistic, they would have many more such storylines. And this one is subtle. The woman is mature and the abuse is mainly psychological. I like the different angles the storyline takes. And that we can’t guess how it will end. If the most exciting thing to happen in The Archers was a risqué calendar, we’d be disappointed.

So I hope this particular storyline is allowed to run its course. It certainly isn’t making anyone who listens to it become mentally ill. That isn’t possible.
But it may trigger feelings in those who have been abused. Which is why helpline numbers are given at the end of the programme.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247 or visit their website 

And if this storyline saves even one woman – or man – from domestic abuse, won’t that be wonderful?

 

This is a copy of a blog I posted in March 2016. If you want to read comments made by others or make one yourself, please follow this link to the original post. Thank you. 

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