Television: Shock treatment

A haunted orphan with a junkie sister: and that's just the doctor. A new drama has a novel approach to mental health

Under the headline "Changing Minds", the poster on the wall of the psychiatric unit in the disused Surrey hospital declares that "every family in the land can be affected by mental health problems. Increase your understanding and reduce stigma and discrimination." This may be a slogan on a public-health publication, but it might just as well serve as a mission statement for Psychos, a new six-part drama that was shot in the aforementioned hospital. Beginning this Thursday, the series aims to overturn preconceptions about mental health. For a start, the title refers to the doctors rather than the patients.

For all its well-meaning protestations, the series has still - with wearisome predictablity - been jumped on by tabloid newspapers who have called it "trash TV". The Scottish actor Douglas Henshall plays the lead, Dr Danny Nash. Taking a break between scenes, he rejects the negative headlines. "They're just reinforcing stereotypes without finding out anything about our aims. Everybody concerned with this piece has done their research. There is nobody doing `mad' acting."

He goes on to claim that the series, written by newcomer David Wolstencroft, has been handled responsibly. "People with mental illness will be watching Psychos, and the last thing I want to do is patronise or insult them. I believe we're getting this as right as we can."

The producer, Chrissie Skinns, feels that the series works because it has a universal resonance. "We all think we're on a certain side of sanity, but we can see manic depression in ourselves. Who decides when that becomes an illness?"

Henshall just hopes that people will give Psychos a chance, and that it won't lead to knee-jerk calls for censorship. "Why do people phone up during Queer as Folk and say `I don't want to watch men kissing on my TV'? They don't have to watch it."

The character of Nash has a "holistic" approach to treatment that is tied in with the need to confront his own demons. Henshall explains that "he's not a Jungian or a Freudian - he's just in favour of whatever works. He's very open-minded. He's an orphan whose sister died of a heroin overdose, and he has this idea that as long as he can heal others, he'll heal himself." It makes for a thought-provoking portrayal of a doctor with as many problems as his patients. Henshall says: "I liked the idea that Psychos questioned what is sane and what is insane, and made no distinction between the two."

The drama brims with black humour, but is by no means cosy viewing. It features such uncomfortable elements as electric-shock treatment and suicide. But Henshall believes you can't brush these things under the carpet. "If you are going to deal with subjects like this, there are going to be times when you come across things that are a bit scary or go against your way of thinking. But surely it's a good thing to challenge people's perceptions. People with mental illness are usually never shown on TV, unless they're wielding an axe. They're never seen in a positive light. We hope this will change all that."

With If Only, This Year's Love and Orphans released in the last few months, Henshall has become one of the hottest properties around. But he still can't quite credit it when he sees his face on posters in the Underground. "You get this strange feeling that London has suddenly become an extension of your living-room. It's spooky."

Nor is Henshall keen to be lumped together with Robert Carlyle, Ewan McGregor and John Hannah in some sort of "Cool Caledonia" pigeonhole. "I loathe the idea that Scottish actors are suddenly trendy. They're good actors who just happen to come out of Scotland," he says, before adding, with a laugh: "And he slowly retreated off his soapbox and hoped he hadn't talked too much rubbish..."

`Psychos' starts on C4 on Thur at 10pm.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup