Help: The Reality Behind The Story

The devastating impact coronavirus had on our care homes in the early months of the pandemic are displayed in Channel 4’s one-off drama ‘Help‘ penned by Jack Thorne (This is England, His Dark Materials).

Depicting a young care worker left to staff an entire care home on her own in the midst of the first wave of the pandemic, the drama outlines the dire consequences of the historic lack of resources and government support in our social care system.

The one-off drama Help is a must watch. Be prepared to feel angry.

In one harrowing scene, care worker Sarah, played by Jodie Comer, notices one of her residents has a high temperature and persistent cough. He is gravely unwell. Her PPE consists of a bin bag and builders dust mask as she tries desperately to move him on to his chest. There is no answer from 111, which she leaves ringing in her pocket throughout the whole scene. A further call to 999 does not supply an ambulance as they did not have any available. In the scene, Sarah, alone the entire time, has no choice but to ask a resident with young onset dementia (played by Stephen Graham) to help. I read that the actors spent a lot of time on Zoom calls with care workers, and it really shows.

Since watching it and talking to friends, I have been surprised by how it has opened peoples eyes to young onset dementia. It seems that by using a younger character it has caused my generation to sit up and think. One friend had not considered he could get dementia at 50. This is just one of the many ways that Help utilises its incredible writing to create more of an impact. By having a character who is truly relatable in age, perhaps the story is more compelling – it makes people sit up and think “this could be me”. The true story here is how the dispensability of older people has played out in front of us this last year and a half, and many have not woken up to see it – by utilising a younger character it opens people’s eyes to the struggles that we may dismiss when they are happening to more elderly members of society.

What Help very cleverly does is simultaneously highlight the struggle faced by people with young onset dementia while also making us question why these same struggles aren’t held in the same regard when they are faced by more elderly people living with the condition. For example, there is a scene where Stephen Graham’s character was prescribed medication to stop him from attempting to leave the home. The effects of this medication may seem quite shocking from an outside perspective, especially watching a younger man dribbling and shutting down. I felt a strong connection to this scene, having worked with many care homes to try and decrease the use of antipsychotic medication to control “unwanted” behaviour. This is why Memory Matters feel so strongly about people with dementia being Visible, Valued and Veard.

The stark reality is that 19,286 people died in our care homes from March to June of last year. Let that sink in.

The real heroes of this story are the carers. They battled through with little PPE and even less support from the Government. Help highlighted the bravery, compassion and humanity of these amazing individuals, who put themselves last to help others through what I can only imagine was the most devastating experience of their lives. I have so much respect for our incredible carer colleagues.

Our campaign Visible, Valued, Heard aims to ensure 6000 people living with dementia feel visible, valued and heard by March 2023 by listening to the stories of those affected by dementia about their experiences, whether they are positive or negative. This can be done through photo, film, voice recording, letter, email or in person.

Have a story to share? Email us your stories at Alternatively you can call us on 01752 243 333, or send us a letter to 69A New George Street, Plymouth, PL1 1RJ.