Photo courtesy of Channel 5.

Can we talk about Neighbours and its approach to mental health? It’s something that I’ve mentioned in passing before, but I think it’s also something that warrants a closer look.

I love to see TV shows tackling the subject of mental health – it’s a huge issue that affects so many people and yet there is still a lot of stigma attached to discussing it, which leads to a certain amount of ignorance surrounding it. TV shows dealing with mental health can be positive, and help to normalise talking about the topic, but only if they deal with it in the correct way.

The recent storyline where Amy developed the compulsion to steal could have been so good, but the way that it was portrayed in the show left me really frustrated. High profile cases such as that of Winona Ryder or Antony Worrall Thompson have highlighted the issue of shoplifting offences committed by people who can afford to pay for the items they steal. It is very much a psychological compulsion, often stemming from feelings of powerlessness and a lack of control.

Neighbours Amy

Amy develops a shoplifting problem. Photo: © Channel 5/ Courtesy of Digital Spy.

At the beginning of the shoplifting storyline, I was pleased Neighbours was tackling something as stigmatised as a middle-class shoplifter, but after introducing such a good idea they really did it a disservice. Amy went from accidentally stealing one item, to stealing a whole drawer full of things in a couple of days, and then she just suddenly disappeared, and we haven’t heard anything more about it (at the time of writing). I really wish the writers had portrayed the compulsion developing a little bit more slowly, and had Amy examining the reasons why she was doing it a little bit more, then seeking some help from a professional. The whole plot just seemed really unrealistic, especially with her confiding in Chloe – someone she barely knows – about something she was so deeply ashamed by.

This isn’t the first time Neighbours has attempted to tackle mental health issues in the storylines and then totally missed the mark. There was the brief period when Piper was agoraphobic after suffering a traumatic incident on the Brennans’ boat. Without therapy or medication she was able to cure herself of the phobia within a few days, just by going outside. I’m sure that real sufferers of this debilitating phobia wish that curing themselves really was as simple as that.

Neighbours piper

Piper has had some mental health problems on the show. Photo: © Channel 5/ Courtesy of Digital Spy.

Eventually Piper’s mental health was tackled slightly more satisfactorily in a later storyline, but it was all dealt with very quickly and has only been mentioned a few times since. It’s as though Neighbours has the courage to bring the issue up, but then doesn’t feel brave enough to see it through.

Who can forget the time that Toadie felt the need to see a therapist, then he went to see said therapist three times in one day – mostly in public places – and then never saw a therapist again? I’ve had therapy and I can tell you it does not work like this. I don’t think I’d have felt very confident in my therapist if she’d been happy to do a session with me in a café, and I’m 100% positive that she wouldn’t have been able to book in three appointments in one day.

I know that Neighbours is just a soap, and we’re not supposed to take it too seriously, but I do wish they wouldn’t introduce these mental health storylines and then gloss over them so quickly. It’s an opportunity to talk about some real issues and normalise the topic of mental health, which is the only way to get rid of the stigma that is still attached to it.

So maybe instead of writing a week’s worth of storylines about people ogling a semi-dressed gardener, the writers could perhaps spend a bit more time on a more meaty storyline about mental health? Come on Neighbours, you can do better than this…