Poldark screenwriter on how her experience with postnatal depression helped inspire the show

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Christobel Hastings
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Poldark screenwriter Debbie Horsfield has opened up about how her difficult experience with postnatal depression helped her gain “insight” into the mental health challenges of the characters on the show. 

The fifth and final season of Poldark is upon us, and the drama on the Cornish coastline is intensifying as Ross Poldark fights against the slave trade, Doctor Dwight Enys challenges the medical establishment, and Demelza Poldark catches Geoffrey Charles Poldark and Cecily Hanson in the midst of a secret rendezvous. 

Behind the period drama’s signature stories of love and heartbreak, however, comes a real story of personal adversity, as Poldark screenwriter Debbie Horsfield has opened up about how her own experiences with postnatal depression helped bring the the mental health issues affecting the characters to life.

Debbie Horsfield, Aidan Turner and Karen Thrussell during the Poldark Series 4 premiere

In an interview with the Radio Times magazine, Horsfield revealed that the birth of her first child catalysed a “permanent ‘fog’” that she initially didn’t recognise as postnatal depression.

“After the birth of my first child, it didn’t occur to me to talk about the permanent ‘fog’ I felt I was wading through, let alone consider it a form of post-natal depression,” she recalled. 

The screenwriter went on to explain that a difficult episode opening up to a family member re-emphasised the shame and stigma pervading mental health awareness in society. 

“When I eventually confided in a family member, she actually got up and ran out of the room!,” she continued. “This was something of a blow - it had taken courage to ‘come clean’ - until I realised the person concerned had probably struggled with that same issue herself and still found it hard to come to terms with.” 

Horsfield, who adapted the series from Winston Graham’s Poldark novels, also reflected that the experience gave her an valuable “insight into the challenges involved in acknowledging and addressing the stigma and fear surrounding the subject”.

Aidan Turner as Ross in Poldark

The fifth series of Poldark has been widely praised for its exploration of mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, and bereavement. In the second episode of the final season, we find Doctor Dwight Enys taking an interest in mental health following the death of his daughter, Sarah.

“He goes into the royal college of surgeons as someone who is interested in mental health,” actor Luke Norris, who plays Enys, said during the premiere of the fifth series. “And obviously at the time, and even now, it is quite a taboo subject. It is a difficult subject.”

According to the NHS, postnatal depression is a type of depression that many parents experience after having a baby. It’s an incredibly common issue too, affecting more than 1 in every 10 women within a year of giving birth, as well as fathers and partners.

Since the episode aired, many Twitter users have applauded the show’s exploration of mental health issues, which highlights the power of the media in helping to change outdated perceptions of those living with mental illness. And thanks to Horsfield’s frank conversation about her lived experiences, we can encourage other women to gain access to the support they need, from pregnancy, to birth, and beyond. 

Images: BBC, Getty