Brain injury in TV and film: Your opinion?

Following on from our interview with Coronation Street's Ben Price in the latest issue of Headway News, we'd like to find out how you feel about the portrayal of brain injury in general in TV and film.

Are there any particularly good or bad examples? Do you feel there is a general understanding of brain injury, or do storylines often miss the mark?

Please tell us your thoughts below!

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25 Replies

  • I watched Louis Theroux documentary on brain injury and was appalled. The documentary showed the worst, most sensational side of brain injury and was extremely negative and I believe detrimental to peoples understanding of brain injury. I can't comment on Coronation Street but the portrayal by Louis Theroux is unrepresentative and unhelpful and showed the worst end of the spectrum, not focussing on what people achieve.

  • I agree documentary did NOTHING to explain the hidden aspects of brain illness/injury. Each person who was interviewed was obviously suffering from this and it didn't show anything about the internal difficulties many of us face when on the outside we look "normal" or even better than before. Trade description act ??

    Can't comment on corrie as I don't watch it.


  • Thank you I agree completely with your comments. I was hoping he would create understanding of, rather than drama from, brain injuries.

  • On the whole I think brain injury is trivialised. I understand that they have to consider viewers staying engaged and they would be loathe to represent the actual length of time taken to achieve an acceptable recovery.

    Looking at the Coronation Street storyline, I found it incredible that Nick went back to work in the time frame he did. I know many people do return to work, but likewise many don't and apart from the change in his personality I'd anger issues there appears to be little holding him back.

    Just reading the posts on Headway, many of us are dogged by incredible fatigue, balance issues meaning difficulties in going out and also exercising. Many are left with visual problems, the possible effects on sight are little known and also epilepsy. Counselling is advised, I could go on.

    Referring to Louis Theroux, I felt it focussed too much on frontal lobe issues and vulnerable people, not showing how a lot of BI sufferers deal with return to 'normal' life.

    It is a many faceted problem and very difficult to portray or report as the issues are many and varied, and recovery is always dependant on the individual involved and actual severity of the injury.

    In my instance being caused by a virus I have found no knowledge of the fact that this can be so severe by the general public as I had no knowledge it either before hand.


  • I agree with Janet. More needs to be done to realistically and un-sensationally educate the public particularly with regard to fatigue and how hard it is to find an understanding 'employer' as many are too scared and ill equipped to take us on which means a loss to society as many of us are qualified with skills and capable (apart from when we are very fatigued.)

  • So hospital and in rehab I met people who had suffered disease related brain injury......I had no idea it existed. It's never mentioned in the media and yet it's widespread.

  • david tennant got it to a tee right down to the inappropriate behaviour.. mines an abi due to a stroke .

  • The only drama concerning the effects of brain injury which I believed was 'Recovery' which featured David Tennant as a survivor of a road traffic accident struggling to cope with all the after effects.

    The issues raised were portrayed with such accuracy that no over-dramatization was needed and the storyline and script were faultless. Its authenticity moved me to tears.

    The Coronation Street storyline was a fair attempt at the subject but there were many occasions where I found Nick's symptoms too sporadic, and the difficulties most BI survivors suffer on a daily basis just weren't evident. For viewers, the message would be that brain injury isn't such a big deal.

    I agree with the other comments on the Louis Theroux documentary. The cases were interesting, and sad too, but it appears they were chosen for dramatic (entertainment) value rather the everyday slog of coping with a damaged brain.

    I can't bring any others to mind. Maybe I've forgotten any others ; it's taken me hours to recount these few !

    Regards, Cat.

  • louis theroux could even be bothered to mention him.

    the actor who plays nick did a lot of research speaking to survivors of tbi s and their experiences, but unfortunately everthing is down to the script writers,,,,

  • As the wife of a survivor of an SAH and stroke, almost 4 years ago, I think that generally, from what I have seen of portrayal on TV, that the general public would think that most people recover fully from a brain injury, with maybe just the odd relapse occasionally!!

    In my experience, this is definitely not so. The after effects and side effects are constantly a part of our every day life, causing a lot of emotional and physical lasting problems, huge changes in personality, constant arguments and of late, serious relationship problems too, which sadly seem to be becoming more frequent, instead of less, which I had hoped with time.

    Of course, every single case is different, and I can only speak for our situation, but I know from reading on here and from other sufferers I know, that we are not alone.

  • I agree with others comments. Brain injury and its impact on every element of your life, is a very complex thing for others to understand -invisible , but very much there on a 24 hour basis for the individual concerned! The public and their understanding of this is often highly influenced by the media and therefore when things are aired on TV, one needs to ensure that they are as near to the actual reality of the situation as possible. If TV companies truly researched the area ie:brain injury from a 'real' life perspective BEFORE airing such programmes like Coronation Street, then they might begin to understand the reality of the situation for many individuals who live with brain injury on a daily basis.

    I think the best way forward is to target/educate our young people and begin to get them to understand the true impact of this pretty awful disability.

  • As mentioned by CAT and Steve the "Recovery" film which is available on Youtube is an "oh my gosh is that me" and the same for carers. Apart from the excellent acting, story line and the research that went into it, the most resounding part is that there is no sensationalisation or glorification it is a simple story with no dramatic ending.

    The problem with most coverage is the "why". Why are they featuring "brain injury" is to highlight BI, inform the public on BI, or is it to give a character a different aspect to enhance a story line like in Coronation Street.

    At the end of the day documentary and film makers will only include the topic if it gains more revenue or an attempt at getting an industry award (eg. emmy or oscar etc.)

  • Until the medical lobby admit they don't know everything about the brain openly (they only discovered lymph drained into back of nose in last few years), brain injury (and recovery) is discussed under a falsehood of misrepresentation, categorisation and 'abandonment after acute intervention'.

    The consultant neurologist advised me (after waiting 6 months for appointment) that 2/3 of cases she had no clear answer as to why the symptoms were occurring. She did the usual reflex tests, walk in straight line, eyes, then sat me down and stated inconclusive. Just like that, she had done her job. What medical training appears to be teaching is to box people into known and recognisable labels, while falling outside of these, leaves you an escapee of both care, attention and support.

    Instead of focusing on media portrayal to public, perhaps media might focus on interviewing those on the front line of brain injury in the medical profession - documenting the range of brain injuries that they see, origin (car accident, fall, stroke, tia, bleed, virus, bacteria, growth /blockage on brain etc) as there are multiple ways to obtain a brain injury.

    Not trying to show that all things are fixable. Trying to portray how it feels to get a non-diagnosis. Try to show how living with 'unchecked emotions' does not make you an idiot, or insane, just that inflammation causes episodes which come and go, seemingly randomly, but with understanding, non-judgement and a lot of love, can be supported and worked through. Ending with a few interviews of a few brain injury survivors who are success stories hearing what worked for them. Keep it real.

    My focus for getting better in my darkest days was meeting with a chap living with encephalitis after being in a coma. I cried with sorrow for myself and laughed with admiration and sheer surprise in his success. He was running his own business working for himself (had days off when he needed to sleep) supported by a good team who understood and had adapted to his situation. He showed me it is possible to surround yourself with understanding and caring people. He gave me the hope I needed to keep an eye on getting my old life back.

    There are also many professionals in the complementary medical fields such as acupuncture, homeopathy, massage, reflexology, herbalists who have had successful interventions for those with brain injury. One size doesn't fit all. Document that.

  • I agree with below comments but really don't think they could of said more because it's on before 9 at night or is it 10 now. I think the truth is to intense. I think to teach people it has to on abit later so the truth can be told. That early cause really upset children, that wasn't the aim obviously. I think saying what they said was enough. The way they bought the story and problems is great to show it doesn't just go away and bad times come at any moment and can mess up your life plans. The only bad thing I can say at mo is bi has made me addicted to the Jeremy Kyle show so got to go at min cause it's on !!!!!!!😳

  • I agree with all of the above. I was shocked by the David Tennant drama, recognising some behaviours/symptoms I had been exhibiting and still suffering from (and thank you to the kind person who posted a link to it on this forum). I'm very lucky, my anger behaviours were minimal, but labile behaviours were shocking. I feel embarrassed looking back and wonder how my partner coped. I'm still struggling with this in a much reduced and less frightening way, getting back some control, recognising warning signs of fatigue (it's taken almost a year to get to where I am now). David Tennant perfectly portrayed the terrifying unawareness of 'self' and detachment from normality. Louis Threoux showed the extreme of symptoms, but not the 'trying to get through a normal existence' problems that TBI presents. A major issue seems to be that people generally think you have an injury that's just going to be 'better' in 'x' amount of time.

    I've taken tentative steps back into playing gigs this month. Headphones and earplugs in, special strap made to stop me falling over with the weight of my instrument, lighting alterations etc. etc. The reaction of regular audience members varies from 'Yiu look fantastic, great to see you're all better now' , to, 'why aren't you back full time now your butter?'...........if only they knew the truth.

    I'm still not sure if I can continue or go back regularly, or if I even want to.........all the persistent symptoms are simply exhausting.

    T.V. Needs to show's not exciting, it may not make thrilling viewing, but until 'people' understand - nothing will change.

  • I can't comment on the Coronation Street storyline as I don't watch it, I did see Louis Theroux & felt it focused on extremes rather than the daily reality that exists for millions. My personal view is that the wider public view brain injury in a very limited way, just as many people believe Alzheimers or Dementia only effects memory, I think many people assume brain injury is 'just' memory problems or loss of control. To be fair though, I knew nothing about brain injury until my own occured & it became all consuming,

    I have mentioned the following in a previous post, so please forgive me spouting the same message. I personally feel the likes of James Cracknell & Richard Hammond do us a dis-service. I realise they provide a 'sexy & more exciting' face of brain injury for Headway to use to raise awareness, however, their examples are what joe public see & expect from the rest of us now. After reading their accomplishments SINCE brain injury I simply feel I'm failing at mine now! As if I don't feel inadequate enough most days, I now feel bad because I'm not trekking some desert with a Discovery Channel filmcrew in tow! Keeping safe within my own home is an accomplishment for me, but not James or Richard, they have to be dare deviling around the world showing they're not broken. Well I still feel broken & have a hard time communicating that to the world & the government, because they see the likes of Richard & James having a sparkling media career & even running to be an MP. Whilst I don't believe they don't have a large background team helping them & tayloring everything to suit their needs, this aspect isn't publicised or mentioned during interviews.

    Could Headway also highlight the cases of famous people who subsequently died do to a brain injury; Cilla Black & Natasha Richardson spring to mind. Natasha's case seems quite poignant to me as she seemed to be okay immediately after the impact, she was moving, talking & decision making, sadly taking the decision to continue skiing. It annoys me that sports coaches or managers don't consider this when choosing to allow sports players to continue after a head impact. Hindsight is a beautiful theory I suppose.

  • I agree with the comments about the Louis Theroux programme. It made me feel very angry because the people it portrayed had such extreme challenges. I am coping really well after my TBI in 2015 (back at work 3 days a week a year on) but obviously Louis would never feature or interview someone like me because it'd be too boring! I do think this is just his style though - he always wants to shock and make an impact.

    I did really enjoy Me and My New Brain (or Me and My Brain) featuring a girl who had had a TBI snowboarding. I thought all the people showed on that programme were incredible - particularly the young woman who had developed Tourette's. I was amazed that this was broadcast on BBC3 - not a channel I thought would ever invest in thoughtful documentaries!

    I will try and dig out Corrie on catch up.

  • I agree. Louis Theroux programme left me and my family feeling angry as when people my sister works with hear I have a brain injury, that is now what they probably imagine and it is far from true in my case.

    I think he should make an apologetic statement as what he chose to present was sensational.

    I have learnt to manage my injury with alot of adjustments, down-sizing and reflection. That wouldn't make good tv. Like Snowypeebles said. When I have a rest day I will be in my pyjamas at 3pm possibly painting my toe nails or reading a book. That doesn't make for dramatic high tension challenging viewing as I am not ranting or raving.

  • Wow what an interesting thread.

    I do for my sins watch Coronation Street (Love it really) and remember the scenes well with Nick especially the one where the guy comes round to survey or look at Nicks flat and starts whistling. He doesn't stop and it winds Nick up to the point he asks the guy to leave and helps him out the door, I completely identify with this as noise effects me.

    I think any exposure good or bad is a good thing as people really struggle to understand this hidden unfortunate problem we all have. From experience I truly know. My parents who are in their 70s don't have a clue about this and what makes it worse they THINK they do. Living with my Alcoholic (in recovery) and abi head is not all that easy but we push on as life does.

    Fantastic to read all the posts here about the soap and its really got me thinking about raising awareness for Headway. I am going through some life yes really life changing stuff at the moment thanks to headway so its all fantastic for me and I couldn't have done half the stuff I'm doing now if it wasn't for my Headway councillor. (See post)

    I am definitely going to get the T shirt made up though with "Bi survivor" on it.

    Nick XX

  • Headway Administrator,

    Would it be possible for you to contact Louis Theroux and pass on our thoughts to him?

    Best wishes


  • Hi Bonfire,

    I'm not sure if we have the details to pass this on, but you're right the comments about the recent Louis Theroux documentary have been very strong.

    I'll pass this on to my colleagues and see if there's anything we can do.

    Best wishes,


  • Hi Andrew

    Thanks for your reply.

    I think he may be on twitter?

    I feel it is important and possibly helpful for him to know our views.

    Best wishes and I look forward to hearing further news.

  • Hi everyone,

    I'd like to say a big thank you for all your comments on this thread, it's sparked a very interesting debate and highlighted some good and not so good examples.

    We may try and do a mini-feature on this in the next issue of Headway News and on our website, and if so will be in touch for permission to use any quotes to back it up.

    Best wishes,


  • Hi Andrew

    Could this be followed up in any of the big who often do articles on 'I survived a....' or as an educational feature? Radio Four?

    Best wishes


  • bar Recovery by David tennant most is sensationalist flannel.

    My wife jokes when folks who have been in hospital with a head injury have remarably full recall!

    Fudumently as a invisible disability public are always going to struggle thinking of stuff like OCD or dyslexia which are far better known and still wildly off mark, so I think brain injury is going to be a fairly uphill battle

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