Hollyoaks star Jessica Fox had personal connection to suicide story

This article contains discussions around suicide.

Hearts of Hollyoaks fans were broken last year when the passing of Kyle, played by Adam Rickitt, aired in a heartwrenching suicide storyline.

Jessica Fox, who plays his fiancee Nancy in the show, has joined Metro.co.uk’s Mental Health Awareness Week takeover where she explains the importance behind telling Kyle’s story, how she has personal experience of the issues raised and how she looks after her own mental wellbeing.

What does mental health mean to you and why is it important to mark with an awareness week?

I think conversations around mental health are so different to how they were just a few years ago and that’s because of campaigns like this, normalising the issue and making it part of our vernacular.

You just have to watch the Britney documentary to see how much things have changed in such a short space of time. It’s no longer something to make a cheap joke about.

I think mental health should be treated the same way we do our physical health. We don’t think twice about going to the gym to look after our bodies. Wouldn’t it be great if there was the mental equivalent? 

It’s a year on from a powerful Hollyoaks story which saw Kyle take his own life – what reception did that get and do people still talk about it now?

The storyline went out at the height of the first lockdown and originally would have been shown over two weeks, but because we were having to ration the episodes it played out over a much longer time frame so they weren’t consumed as intended.

But ultimately I think that worked in our favour. Trauma is a long, awful, sad and draining process so having the audience be exposed to it over a longer period was possibly more realistic and maybe more shocking.

The response we got was overwhelming, people still message me about it and it’s the storyline I’m proudest of. 

It was a bold move from the show – are you glad with how they handled it? 

Adam Rickitt is such a wonderful man and Kyle was so popular and a great character. So often the focus is on the one person struggling, but it’s not a full stop for those left behind.

They have to pick up the pieces of their lives and find a way to carry on. Showing how his death affected everyone in the village from Nancy to characters he didn’t really interact with told that story.

Several people have said to me that seeing Nancy so distraught is what made them ask for help as it made them think of their partner/mother/children/loved ones and it’s incredible if Hollyoaks have played a small part in helping someone. 

Hollyoaks continually tackles real mental health issues from self harm and eating disorders to depression and psychosis – why is this important?

I think it’s really important that Hollyoaks keeps covering mental health as not only is it a good source of material and drama – it keeps the conversation going. If someone suffers with their mental health it’s a life long commitment to stay happy and healthy. Very rarely (if ever) do you ‘just get over it.’

There’s so many different types of mental illness – it’s not a one size fits all situation. Having storylines that place such importance on mental health is crucial for people to know they aren’t alone. 

When filming heavy scenes, how does it impact on you? And does the show provide support for when you have to go to these places?

Before we started the storyline we had a meeting to let us know that where was support on offer if we wanted it. This storyline was close to a lot of the cast and crew and it was very important to get it right. Sadly my life has been impacted by suicide and I felt a huge responsibility.

I put a lot of pressure on myself and in all honesty, I absolutely hated filming it. Putting your mind and body into that kind intense upset takes a toll – I lost weight, my skin was terrible, I had black bruises around my eyes, my sleep was awful – your body doesn’t know you are only acting! I’m very proud of the storyline and the reception it got but it was a tough one to get through. 

Do you have your own relationship with mental health issues – they say 1 in 3 will experience it so is there anything that helps you get into the mindset for tackling these stories? 

Unfortunately I have personal experience with this storyline and so was able to draw on that for a lot of the scenes. Which was good in some ways and utterly rubbish in others.

I decided to use music as my way in and out of the mindset. I used a song that I would listen to over and over again at work which got me into Nancy’s headspace – I doubt I’ll ever listen to it again! But when I got home I would learn my lines for the next day and then play ‘Where Does The Good Go’ by Tegan and Sara and ‘dance it out’ like in Grey’s Anatomy and put the bad part of the day to bed. Once that song was played – no more tears! 

With Hollyoaks having such a young fanbase, it’s arguably the most important soap for telling stories differently – how do you think Hollyoaks successfully gets the message across to its demographic?

I think Hollyoaks is very clever in the way they tackle storylines. As we do generally have a younger fanbase we tend to tell stories through the eyes of children, teenagers and young adults finding their place in this world and cover the issues they may face, which means people might recognise themselves within the storyline.

Couple that with a super strong online team – the social media side of Hollyoaks is great at raising awareness and interacting with its audience – like the Don’t Filter Feelings campaign. I think Hollyoaks finds the line between entertainment, drama and raising awareness and offering help very well. 

How was lockdown for you – mental health issues rose significantly, what were some of your coping mechanisms? 

I’ve worked almost my entire life and never taken time off in my 16 years at Hollyoaks (apart from holiday allowance) so I was completely unprepared for when it just stopped. Although I understand why it had to happen and obviously it was very important we all stayed at home, I struggled with it! We had a holiday booked, our wedding got cancelled and I sadly lost my Grandmother.

So it wasn’t an easy time for me. I tried to keep myself busy, I read, I baked a lot of bread, I did the couch to 5k and I cursed people with lovely gardens – I was very glad to get back to work though. 

How do you practise self care and look after your mental wellbeing; what is the best ‘therapy’ for you when you aren’t feeling your greatest? 

As I get older I’ve realised how important it is to look after yourself. I never regret dragging myself to the gym or going for a walk. I downloaded Headspace over lockdown and I found that so helpful. My brain is always whirring so taking a moment to check in and be present has been a game changer.

I can’t recommend it enough. I’m a great believer in the power of cake and a hot bath and now that lockdown is lifting spending time with my friends. Putting the world to rights around a table with your favourite people is the greatest medicine. 

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Metro.co.uk MHAW Takeover

This year, to mark Mental Health Awareness Week, Metro.co.uk has invited eight well-known mental health advocates to take over our site.

With a brilliant team that includes Alex Beresford, Russell Kane, Frankie Bridge, Anton Ferdinand, Sam Thompson, Scarlett Moffatt, Katie Piper and Joe Tracini, each of our guest editors have worked closely with us to share their own stories, and also educate, support and engage with our readers.

If you need help or advice for any mental health matter, here are just some of the organisations that were vital in helping us put together our MHAW Takeover:

  • Mental Health Foundation
  • Rethink Mental Illness
  • Samaritans
  • Mind

To contact any of the charities mentioned in the Metro.co.uk MHAW Takeover click here

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