ITV’s Coronation Street is a show myself and my Mum have watched together for longer than I can remember. With its family themes, characters of all ages and primetime weeknight slots, it has always been a favourite in our house. It also makes it perfect for promoting diversity and dispelling common myths about a variety of disabilities, being a prominent part of the regular routines of households up and down the country. Never shying away from sensitive topics, Corrie has tackled a variety of issues close to my heart. Whilst other issues dealt with by the soap will be covered in future blog posts, I wanted to write this one about a storyline which ran in 2018, and saw young adult Craig Tinker suffering from and diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
I was impressed with Coronation Street’s handling of this so-often misunderstood disorder from the outset. Whilst the term ‘a little OCD’ is widely used to mean ‘fussy’ or ‘neat,’ the reality of the condition often has nothing to do with neatness at all. I was pleased to see Corrie acknowledging this in Craig’s character, and showing him not as an individual who simply liked things to be in order, but as one deeply anxious about the potential that those he loves will get hurt, and performing repetitive switch and lock checking rituals to try and prevent this from happening. Though some individuals with the disorder do indeed exhibit a need for tidiness and order, and their difficulties are no less significant than those of any other, I was glad that producers chose, in this instance, not to take that route, as in my experience, it is the type of OCD more commonly portrayed and can lead to both a lack of acknowledgement of the validity of alternative Obsessive-Compulsive experiences, and tempt showrunners into not fully addressing the anxiety which usually serves as the underlying cause of the rituals.
I found Corrie’s willingness to engage with Craig’s anxiety refreshing. In a conversation with friend Bethany, in which she could see that Craig was uncomfortable in a restaurant and asked him to explain his thought process to her, she was shocked at the way his mind was able to find danger everywhere he looked, going as far to fear the position of the glasses on the table in case they were to fall and hurt Bethany when smashing. It is the acknowledgement of these seemingly ‘less noticeable’ aspects of OCD which sets Corrie’s portrayal apart from half-hearted attempts to create characters with the condition. In revealing that Craig—whose OCD was sparked by his previous inability to correctly recall the time of Bethany’s attack when in court, as he saw himself as being the potential cause of more danger for her if the perpetrator were to be set free as a result of his error—did not only experience symptoms when obviously repeatedly checking hobs and locks, Coronation Street was able to give a sense of the all-encompassing nature that this disorder can take. Though a further examination of these intrusive thoughts could have been powerful, the timeslot Corrie has and the need to juggle a variety of storylines in a single half hour episode would have made this difficult, and consequently, I believe the storyline was handled appropriately, and as thoroughly as it could have been given the nature of the programme as a whole.
Though there are many different subtypes of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and it would be great to see a wider acknowledgement of this in the media more generally, this was the first television portrayal I’ve seen where I can honestly say I have no complaints. The aftermath of Craig’s diagnosis saw confused family members and friends struggling to separate what they thought they knew of the condition with how it manifested in Craig. The programme also promoted a healthy combination of medication and therapy for recovery, with Craig talking to his family and friends about some of the coping mechanisms he had been taught by his therapist, demonstrating how therapy can be a source not only of emotional support, but also of practical advice if this is what’s needed. Colson Smith’s tentative portrayal of Craig’s anxiety ensured that the underlying mindset of individuals with the disorder could be understood. The combination of this and the careful writing which made sure to clarify that OCD can manifest in a variety of ways allowed viewers with a similar type of OCD as Craig to feel seen and represented, whilst delivering a vital message about the dangers of stereotyping disability.