A hard-hitting new TV show is breaking new ground in tackling mental health problems and tragedies that affect children and their families.
The title role in the new S4C drama, Bex, is played by West End actress Rebecca Hayes who says she would have loved to have seen a drama series like this when she was young as it would have been a big help in navigating the trials and tribulations of growing up.
The programme highlights how youngsters can be seriously disturbed by all kinds of real-life mental health and wellbeing issues and how talking about them can be a big help.
Among the difficulties featured are a young boy whose sister has died of leukaemia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Panic Attacks, Body Dysmorphic Disorder and a phobia of vomiting
Made by the Ceidiog production company, Bex consists of eight 20-minute episodes of the programme with the first being broadcast at 6.30pm on S4C on Tuesday, March 22. All eight episodes will be available to view on demand on S4Cs Clic.
Rebecca, from Cardiff and who’s currently appearing in a stage version of the classic American novel, To Kill a Mocking Bird, at the Gielgud Theatre in London, said: “This is the first show I’ve done for children. The reason I did it is if I had had a programme like this when I was growing up dealing with the whole load of things I’ve had to deal with in my life and the lives of my friends I would have loved it.
“It’s shown me it’s not something to be afraid of or keep quiet about. I’ve learned things I didn’t know much about as well and could have helped me recognise the issues in others. It’s important for young people to see that things like panic attacks, anxiety, phobias and such do happen and its possible to live with these issues.”
She said mental health issues among children and young people was one of the major issues that emerged during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.
“But that has led to more openness and more discussion and young people now believe they have someone they can talk to about their problems, their phobias and issues. Bex shows young people how to talk to someone to share how they feel and know that they can help.,” added. Rebecca.
Bex, explained Rebecca, is a special person who appears to children who need her help in the series
“She visits a number of children who are suffering from various issues related to their mental health and encourages them to talk to her and to others,” said Rebecca.
During the series Bex visits Jac, who has lost his sister Anni to the blood cancer, Leukaemia and Casi who suffers from severe anxiety. This has developed into Emetophobia, an extreme fear of vomiting, seeing vomit, watching other people vomit, or even feeling sick. It is a phobia that may occur alongside other mental health conditions which producer Nia Ceidiog says is not as rare as many people might think.
Rebecca added that during the series Bex also visits Celyn and Elis, who are both affected by the effects of an OCD condition. Other issues examined by Bex include Panic Attacks, Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD).
She said a youngster with SAD worries a lot about being apart from family members or other close people. The child has a fear of being lost from their family or of something bad occurring to a family member if he or she is not with the person. This had become increasingly evident during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“In the show Bex visits Trystan who suffers from SAD. He doesn’t want to go back to school and continually contacts his parents by calling or texting them,” she said.
Nia Ceidiog said Rebecca gives a masterful performance as Bex
“We saw a lot of actors for the part and Rebecca was excellent. Her performance is understated but strong and very realistic. The children who are in the show thought she was very cool,” she said.
She added the programme is aimed at children aged eight to twelve years. She hopes parents will watch Bex with their children providing them with an opportunity to open up discussion on mental health topics.
“The programme will be shown at 6.30pm, a little later than the normal children’s programming time on S4C and its a time when families normally sit down to watch television
“We have had experts and specialists behind us all the way through the making of this programme advising us about the issues portrayed in the programmes. The fictional dramas are challenging but realistic and the conditions portrayed are serious but BEX brings hope.
“The children go through a lot but we’ve done that with help from the experts, we don’t want to trigger anything in anyone but we have tried to be honest,” she said.
Nia’s production company, which has won BAFTA awards for other pioneering children’s television programmes, has been provided with support from the Welsh Government to provide educational resources to accompany the series. She said health and well-being are key parts of the new school curriculum in Wales.
A number of well-known authors, including Megan Angharad Hunter, Anni Llyn, Nia Morais, Angharad Blythe and Manon Steffan-Ros, have joined teachers, children and other experts to create these resources.
Nia added there will be a podcast with children talking about their experiences, and a special section for teachers only, offering webinars and so on, as well as a welfare section for them on how to deal with their own lives helping them to be more able to help children with serious problems.
Sioned Geraint, S4C’s Commissioner for Children and Learners, said: “This series is ground-breaking in the way it deals with children’s mental health, and it is hoped that it will open the door for family discussion about mental health, which is such an important thing. It’s a pleasure to see talented young actors, most of them new faces to the screen, staring.”
Bex is broadcast on S4C on Tuesday from March 22 at 6.30pm on S4C. English and Welsh subtitles are available. The programme is also available on demand at S4C Clic, BBC iPlayer and other platforms.