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We Are England: Mental Health (Series Premiere BBC One Wed 26 Jan 2022)

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We Are England examines the changing face of England and explores the big issues people are talking about, in parts of the country often ignored. In the first week, we meet people across the country who are overcoming personal mental health challenges. The emotional and poignant stories are a powerful insight into the mental health crisis.

The programmes have been made from hubs in Leeds, Newcastle, Birmingham, Bristol, London and Norwich. There will be 60 programmes per series (two series), with 120 programmes produced each year.

The film that viewers will see in this time-slot will vary depending on where they are in the county, as each hub is delivering a film based on the weekly theme, but one that is tailored to their region.

Leeds hub – Veterans’ Road To Recovery

A former soldier who turned his own life around is now supporting fellow veterans as they retrain as HGV drivers – helping them overcome challenges both on and off the road.

Darren served in the Royal Artillery as a gunner before being discharged with PTSD but with little support, he found the adjustment back into civilian life hard. He struggled with addiction and ended up in prison for more than 10 years after being convicted of kidnapping.

When he left prison Darren knew he had to do something to help other veterans. The stability and income his job as a lorry driver gave him helped him overcome his own issues and he knew it could help others too.

In this film, we follow Darren as he helps train two veterans in Leeds through the bumpy ride of lorry driving whilst also helping them with their life outside the military.

Newcastle hub – Cold Swim
In this episode a retired North East police officer helps two new recruits as they take up cold-water swimming for the first time to improve their wellbeing.

Jacqui is one of millions of people across the UK who believe the daily icy dips do wonders for their physical and mental health.

She has persuaded a recovering alcoholic who lives locally, and a mother in remission from a rare type of leukaemia, to take on the cold-water challenge.

Back in the 90s Kirk used to be the art director for various London based magazines, a job that involved a lot of stress and dealing with celebrities who featured on the front cover.

After a nasty drunken fall which involved surgery to put him right, he decided enough was enough and moved back to the North East. He is now 14 years sober but still labels himself an alcoholic.

In 2019 Sarah-Jane was diagnosed with Hairy Cell leukaemia – a disease that is currently incurable and very rare in women her age. As Sarah-Jane was coming to terms with her diagnosis, Covid-19 then hit.

Just like Jacqui, can Kirk and Sarah-Jane start to believe going for a swim in the sea each day will have a positive impact on their wellbeing?

Birmingham hub – Fighting My Phobia
In this episode we meet Rob Harrison who has silently battled social anxiety his entire life but he’s fighting back – and is now stepping in the ring for a charity boxing match in front of hundreds of people.

The young dad from Coventry never dreamed of putting himself in such a vulnerable position after being hamstrung by his crippling social phobia. During his teenage years, Rob hated being around people and specifically being looked at. It stopped him using public transport and made school particularly difficult.

The unexpected death of his father in 2014 hit him hard, but with his mother’s help he found out what lay behind his fears. An expert’s diagnosis of social phobia then set him on the long road to recovery. Once he knew the source of his mental health issues Rob was able to build the routines and strategies into his daily life to help him cope, and these enabled him to take on new challenges.

Now, he is a happily married man with a daughter and another baby on the way, but Rob has set himself a test like no other he’s ever faced: a charity boxing fight night for the Children’s Air Ambulance.

It’s not so much the fight which worries him as much as walking out in front of hundreds of people. Being the man he is Rob prepares carefully for both, training hard and having his own motivational song recorded.

Bristol hub – Nature On My mind
This episode follows Nick Goldsmith who left the Royal Marine Commandos in 2014 with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The impact on his life was huge, and he’s not alone.

Nick tried conventional therapies but found solace in a patch of wild woodland. He felt there was something magical about it, taking him back to a childhood safe place. This experience led him to set up the Woodland Warrior Programme in 2016, inviting veterans with PTSD to join for a free-of-charge weekend sleeping under the stars. He taught them bushcraft skills and encouraged them to share their experiences with one another. And it worked.

Over the last five years the programme has helped more than 200 veterans. Recently, seeing the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic on keyworkers, particularly frontline medical staff, he opened the programme to them too.

This episode closely follows Nick in the workshop, meeting a group of veterans and key workers ahead of the course, and through the weekend.

London hub – Becoming Dad
In this programme we meet Elliott Rae, who reveals how the traumatic birth of his daughter led him to set up an online community for dads struggling with PTSD and postnatal depression.

One in 10 men in the UK struggle with their mental health following the birth of a child. Yet unlike for mums, postnatal depression in dads often goes unacknowledged and undiagnosed.

We join Elliott as he meets expectant dads grappling with anger problems, disability, and anxiety.

In an emotive sequence set at Queen Park Rangers football stadium, dads talk of struggling with being single parents and witnessing their partners almost dying during birth. Elliott also sets out on a campaign to get the government to provide more funds and resources for the mental health of dads.

Meeting change-makers and NHS chiefs on his mission to get mental health support for all dads, he pushes for action.

Norwich hub – Unfiltered
This programme follows Mia, a talented dancer training at Caroline Flack’s former performing arts school who faces her own mental health challenges.

With just two weeks to learn a new routine for the school’s annual show, can the 19 year-old pull it off, or will her anxiety and panic attacks get the better of her?

With ill mental health amongst girls in England on the rise, mental wellness is firmly in the spotlight at Mia’s school. An in-house counsellor is available to all students and trailblazing wellbeing classes have become a weekly fixture on the school timetable.

Mia and her friends open up about the mental health challenges they and many other girls face in the age of a social media society, and the programme explore how the school Caroline Flack attended in the 1990s is working hard to de-stigmatise poor mental health and encourage students to seek support if needed.

TV personality Vicky Pattison also meets Mia and her friends to talk about the realities of social media and opens up about her own mental health struggles.

Airdate: Wednesday 26 January 2022 at 7.30pm on BBC One.