Samaritans' work with EastEnders on the Lee Carter storyline

Soaps can play a really effective role in raising awareness of sensitive issues, including suicide, and generating helpful discussion about these issues through carefully developed storylines, and the the more we increase people’s understanding of the issues surrounding suicide, such as the kinds of problems that can mount up and lead a person to feeling they can no longer cope, the more we can equip people to look out for and support each other.

In EastEnders, we've seen character Lee Carter going through an extremely turbulent time in recent months. He has encountered a number of problems in his new job, financial pressures which have prompted him to make some reckless choices, and these have all impacted his relationship with new wife Whitney.

We know that these are all issues people can find difficult to cope with and they are issues people talk to Samaritans about. 

Coverage of suicide, in drama and news, carries an element of risk, therefore it’s important that guidance is sought. We were very pleased that EastEnders approached us for expert advice on Lee’s storyline, covering such a topic requires great care and sensitivity. We have worked closely with their researchers and writers advising on scripts and we also worked alongside director Toby Frow and actor Danny-Boy Hatchard advising on particular scenes. Samaritans has been working with the media for over two decades providing expert advice on this.

Through Lee’s story EastEnders has clearly shown that these huge personal struggles can mount up and in the worst case, can lead a person to reaching a point where they feel completely consumed with hopelessness and unable to cope. At this point people often lose sight of being able to work through their problems, some can even start to falsely believe that their loved ones might be better off if they were no longer here – something Lee has considered.  

One of the major barriers for Lee in all of this has been his inability to speak out and share what he’s been going through. In doing this he has further isolated himself from his loved ones and the valuable support he so needs. Talking can really help us to see a way through our problems and it’s really important to encourage people to reach out for help. This can be done very effectively by demonstrating the value of talking, through storylines and signposting sources of support, such as Samaritans.

From time to time people call Samaritans’ helpline prompted by something they have watched on TV. For some, this can be the first vital step in talking about a problem they have been suffering through alone.

We know that people can sometimes feel apprehensive about how to start a conversation with a person they think may be going through a tough time. It can be hard to know what to say, but in truth there isn’t really a right or wrong thing to say, the best approach is simply to start that conversation. Allowing the person the space to talk through how they feel, often serves as a huge relief and can be a vital first step in getting the help they need.

We encourage any viewers who have been touched by Lee’s story to get in touch with Samaritans, we are here day and night, to listen and give confidential support. People can call us free of charge on 116123, or email jo@samaritans.org or find the details for your local branch at www.samaritans.org/branches. Calls to Samaritans’ helpline do not show up on phone bills. 

Lorna Fraser
Media Adviser