Emmerdale, lockdown, and male mental health

POSTED ON 13/06/2020 IN Mental Health In TV & Film

On Wednesday 10th June 2020, the ITV soap opera, Emmerdale, broadcast its second ‘lockdown’ episode. Six of these special episodes will be broadcast overall, with small groups of two or three characters taking centre stage in the episodes as they are focused on when being in lockdown, in their homes and with their family units, due to the global pandemic. This episode in particular was different because it focused on two characters that have a rich history of drama, but what was included in the episode was something that I think was far more than just a snapshot of the lives these characters had at this moment in time, it was actually genius.

Although we heard about others in the programme, the episode featured only the characters of Cain Dingle (played by Jeff Hordley) and Aaron Dingle (played by Danny Miller); uncle and nephew respectively, and two characters who have been in the show, on and off, for a long time. They are two that the audience know very well, and the episode focused on them living together in Aaron’s house where Cain has been staying since he split from his wife, Moira. The two of them are very similar in a lot of ways, but they are also very different when it comes to showing emotion. Viewers have seen in the past that Aaron has struggled with self-harm after many things happening in his life, but he has seen a counsellor in recent years which has helped him a lot. Cain, on the other hand, hardly ever shows emotion or talks about how he is feeling. At the beginning of the episode, this difference between the characters was hugely evident.

Within the first minute of the episode, Aaron had realised that something was bothering Cain, but he didn’t want to talk about whatever it was. Cain wanted to lay down some ‘lockdown rules’ of practising “holding things in…no talking about things, no going over our problems. No questions…and no emotions.” This is typical Cain Dingle, and it is unfortunately the way some people, especially men, feel about their emotions – they bottle things up.

The episode continued with Aaron and Cain talking about their respective divorces, with Aaron saying that Cain can’t deal with his own issues, while Aaron was able to get closure with his husband Robert sending a letter from prison explaining some unresolved things between the couple. Towards the end of the episode, Cain eventually opened up to Aaron about how he feels about his wife, Moira, and that he does still love her, but that he doesn’t see a way back for them.

What I loved about this episode was that it focused on two characters who have been in more fights than I can remember, but while they both express stereotypical male qualities of anger and rage, one openly shows how they are feeling while the other does not. While mental health wasn’t focused on directly in this episode, the whole backdrop to it was. It didn’t feel forced either; Aaron knew that something was wrong with Cain and he gradually helped him talk about it – something which I think a lot of viewers could relate to.

I discuss soap operas a lot because, other than real life documentaries, I think they are the nearest thing we have to programmes that focus on everyday life. I think Emmerdale was extremely clever in writing this episode as it gave a focus to the struggles many people have had over the last couple of months, and by doing so showed that it is OK to feel however people feel. This is why soap operas are important – keep up the good work, Emmerdale!


Sarah Keeping MBPsS MSc PgDip GDip BA (Hons) Cert HE

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