The important conversation we must have after that Call The Midwife episode

Warning: this article contains spoilers for the latest episode (episode two, season 12) of Call The Midwife on BBC One. 

Content note: this article contains references to suicidal ideation, miscarriage and depression that readers may find upsetting.

This week’s episode of Call The Midwife grappled with some heavy themes – not least of all the unexpected departure of Lucille Robinson (Leonie Elliott).

“I wasn’t sure if you’d put your white coat on,” the nurse says as she sits down in Dr Turner’s office at the GP surgery. “I didn’t know if you’d treat me as a physician or like a friend.”

“I can be either, because I’m both,” replies Stephen McGann’s character.

“I have such a lot of friends,” says Lucille, considering his words. “Even my husband is a friend. They’ve all tried to help me and got nowhere. So I think I’d like you to be my doctor.”

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Of course, Lucille has been – on the surface, at least – coping extraordinarily well since her miscarriage last season. The award-winning period drama has effortlessly steered clear of heavy-handed Hollywood mental health tropes, instead choosing to explore all the subtle ways in which depression can manifest itself.

This means that Lucille has been functioning. That she has been going to work each day, pasting a smile on her face, and helping her patients in whatever way she can. That she helped her loving husband, Cyril (Zephryn Taitte), to plan a community talent show over the Christmas period. That she has insisted – likely because she believes it to be true – that, “I am not sick; I’m sad.”

But, while Lucille has been going through the motions, it has been abundantly clear to everyone watching at home that she has found it a struggle to do so. She seems disengaged from the people around her and has been lacking her usual energy. She has found it difficult to make eye contact with her loved ones, let alone have sex with her husband. And she, too, has experienced flashes of raw anger – flashes that have only grown in frequency and intensity as the episodes have continued.

Dr Turner – despite this show being set in the ‘bad old days’, when mental health was considered something of a taboo subject – bears all of the above in mind. And, gently, he reminds his colleague that depression is a real illness with real symptoms; it is not a sign of weakness or something you can ‘snap out of’ by ‘pulling yourself together’.

“From everything you’ve told me about your feelings – even your physical symptoms, like the lethargy, the headaches – medical intervention is what you need,” he tells her. “I know the way through these woods, Lucille. 

“Now, before we move on, I have to ask you one last thing. Have you found yourself thinking of hurting yourself?”

It is at this point that Lucille draws the attention of viewers to a moment from earlier on in the episode, which saw her standing uncertainly by the side of a busy road.

“Yes,” she says. “Yesterday. I went walking, I stood by the road, I stared at the traffic, and I stared at the road thinking it could take me home.”

“In what way?” asked Dr Turner.

“If I’d died on it.”

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It is an important reminder that we, all of us, can never know what someone is going through – and that we should all work together to foster a kinder and more open environment. One which enables people to be vulnerable and share their feelings, however complex, with the world.

How? Well, perhaps by remembering to ask them if they are OK, and by listening – really listening, we mean – to the answer.

“Sometimes, we want to be there for someone but don’t know how to start,” reads a post by the Samaritans.

“We recommend that if you’re worried about someone, you try talking to them. [And remember that] it’s OK if you’re not an expert – just listening can help someone work through what’s on their mind.”

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While it’s incredibly difficult to see a mental health issue, especially as we can so often hide them from others and from ourselves, simply asking someone outright if they’re OK may be the reminder they need that someone cares. Listening to what they have to say can help someone work through what’s on their mind. And this, in turn, might just halt that cycle before it goes on too long.

Because, as Samaritans notes: “When people feel listened to, it can save a life.”

Call The Midwife: Leonie Elliott as Lucille Robinson.

Leonie Elliott has echoed this same sentiment in an emotional message about her character’s exit, writing on Twitter: “This season was incredibly difficult to film. Thank you for all your kind words. It’s my hope for people watching that if they can see the good in her, maybe they can extend that to people in real life. I care about [Lucille] deeply.

“Many share her story of miscarriage and depression, and many share her experience of abuse, racial or otherwise. Many of us face mental health challenges, I hope we can continue to love one another, support and listen to each other.

“Look after yourselves and each other.”

The episode ends on a hopeful note, as Lucille’s husband, Cyril, surprises his wife with an open ticket to Jamaica – news which goes a long way towards lifting her spirits, as she has been aching to see her family amid the growing racial tensions in the UK following Enoch Powell’s hateful ‘Rivers Of Blood’ speech.

“I want to go, but I don’t want to leave,” she tells him, her sense of displacement all too apparent.

“The sooner you get to Jamaica, the sooner you’ll be coming back,” replies Cyril.

Perhaps Lucille might return, then, before the new season is out? We shall have to wait and see.

Samaritans operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. For confidential support call the Samaritans in the UK on 08457 90 90 90 or visit a local Samaritans branch.

If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at [email protected]

Call The Midwife airs on BBC One and BBC iPlayer. 

Images: BBC

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