Line of Duty increasingly captivated audiences with its super-long interrogation interviews and shocking twists. As the nation watched, cried, and gasped at the last episode, I had a think about its depiction of mental health. With the series six finale airing during mental health awareness month, did Line of Duty make some important points about dealing with the struggles your brain can face?
Something that can massively impact your mental health is trauma. All of the characters repeatedly watch and suffer through seeing both colleagues and archenemies alike die, sometimes as a direct result of their own actions. Writers often want to shock the audience, but this means their characters often see extreme levels of horror, grief, and trauma, that is never particularly addressed throughout most of the series.
Series 1 – 5
We never really saw Steve or Kate discuss their experiences, except with the odd ‘are you okay mate’ comment at the pub. Their personal lives were rollercoasters, with each series bringing new situations to navigate at home, but there was rarely a link made between their professional lives and their personal lives. A lot of the characters seemed unable to be honest about their feelings, even to those they were close to. Hastings seemed particularly isolated, going through a marriage breakdown and appearing to not confide in anyone else about how he felt about it. Steve had been suffering a painkiller addiction, with many viewers assuming it was primarily due to his back injury. However, it slowly became more obvious that this reliance was masking some deeper issues.
The biggest roadblock preventing the team from addressing their issues was the fear of being taken off active duty. Steve, Kate and Hastings were extremely passionate about their work, and wanted to be actively involved; fixated on the idea of uncovering the entire OCG network, they were on a seemingly endless mission against corrupt police officers. It is essential that police officers are able to manage their mental health to be able to deal with the pressure of an incredibly stressful workplace. In fact, anyone already on medication to manage their mental health is advised against applying to be a police officer – they know how stressful a work environment it is.
Mental health issues were prevalent throughout the show, for suspects as well as our heroes. In the first series, DCI Tony Gates took his own life in the finale, seeing no way out of the impossible situation he found himself in. DI Lindsay Denton had suffered a miscarriage, lost her mother and had a difficult living situation, and these issues were slowly revealed as we tried to guess her culpability in the crime. Line of Duty effectively showed us the lengths that people go to, or the mess they could end up in, if they don’t address their issues.
The drama of Line of Duty often picked on the vulnerability of the characters. Secrets, sticky situations and financial struggles often came out as ammunition against them. These personal difficulties were never something that they offered up in a safe environment… until the last series.
The latest series focused a bit more on a character with Downs Syndrome: Terry Boyle. Hastings did label him as ‘the local oddball’, but this seemed to be consistent with Hastings’ character often being insensitive and offensive – Roz Huntley, in series four, made a point of asking Hastings to use gender-neutral language when he used somewhat patronising towards her. In earlier series, it was sad to see the way in which the criminals used Boyle’s vulnerability, which was also the case at the start of this series. However, the characters of Jo Davidson and Kate seemed to take that into account in their investigation in a respectful way, whilst we also saw a positive conclusion for the character in his rehousing. In exploring the character of Terry Boyle a bit more, Line of Duty did do a good job, overall, of raising awareness.
The shocking twists and dark narrative of Line of Duty meant that the characters went through many trials and tribulations, so maybe it was fitting for the latest series to finally address their mental health, as seen in Kate and Steve speaking to a workplace counsellor. At the start, Steve was defensive following the personal questions asked regarding the trauma he experienced, but he accepted that he needed help, later speaking a bit more openly with Kate about his painkiller reliance. In another scene, we see the counsellor explaining the impact that police work can have to Kate. Stress and pain, particularly when violence is involved, is directly related to poor mental health. The scene touched on how important it is to have a support network to speak to, and Kate admitted that her friendship with Steve has really helped her.
Even though Hastings wasn’t shown seeing a counsellor, he comes forward about his role in the death of John Corbett. In confessing his actions, you could sense his relief that he no longer has the strain of keeping it quiet. But, despite these steps, there was still a sense of how isolated the main characters are. They do have each other, and have been through much of the trauma together, but is this friendship enough?
It’s good to have a reminder that experiences, trauma and stress can take its toll. COVID-19 has prompted many people to be more open about mental health, and conversations about emotional well-being seem to be increasingly common. As Line of Duty concluded ahead of mental health awareness week, there seemed to be conscious effort to address the feelings about the experiences depicted. Perhaps it seemed a bit too late, but addressing the importance of mental health is better late than never.
Words by Annie Gray
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