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Lucy NicholWriter and mental health campaignerThursday 16 Aug 2018 12:50 pm

Rainie ponders in EastEnders
Rainies drug problems and recovery are being portrayed sensitively (Picture: BBC/ Kieron McCarron)

So EastEnders Rainie is falling hard for bad boy Max and their ruthless business arrangement is starting to mean so much more to Mrs on paper only Branning.

And what might come as a surprise to many of us is that we are starting to care.

Of course, we never used to care about Rainie – this infamous woman with a dirty past who propelled Phil Mitchell into crack addiction and blackmailed the hapless Ian Beale following the death of his daughter, Lucy.

And turning up on the Square married to her sisters ex wasnt something we were especially impressed with.

But nonetheless, we do now care. Possibly because EastEnders has, in my opinion, done another cracking job at portraying mental health and social problems so authentically.

With other storylines portraying mental health problems, we got to see the character first, and the illness second. Think about Staceys post-partum psychosis storyline. Stacey was someone we had all got to know and love – the gobby girl-next-door with the big heart, who fell in love with Bradley and who never complains about mum Jeans sausage surprise dinner. It showed us that psychosis can affect anyone and it doesnt make them a bad person.We got to know Stacey first and the illness second.

Rainie and Max argue over the drugs in EastEnders
Will Rainie find love with Max? (Picture: Kieron McCarron)

With Rainie, however, we met an addict first. We saw the terrible life of drug and alcohol addiction and the awful ways in which it can manipulate its victim – so much so, that we dont see them as the victim. We often see the addict as the perpetrator of chaos.

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But thats how life works isnt it? We often dont get the chance to get to know someone before we make our assumptions. How many times do we walk past somebody on the street, begging for money, and think theyre just going to buy drugs with it?

However, EastEnders has taken us from that first judgmental impression of an addict and forced us to see the human being behind the illness – because lets be clear, it is an illness.

We started out despising Rainie, seeing the havoc she wreaked on others. But as she was continually judged by people like Donna (who cruelly planted crack in Rainies house), and even her mother, Cora (who tried to entice her away from Max with cold hard cash), we started to see that there was more to Rainie than we first thought.

Rainie is working hard to remain clean. The opportunities that present themselves to her are the kinds of opportunities that old Rainie, unwell Rainie, would have jumped at to feed her habit.

But thats no longer what she wants. That was the addictions wish, not Rainies.

Rainie cradles Abi in EastEnders
Rainie wants a normal life (Picture: BBC/Kieron McCarron)

So now shes beyond the intense throes of addiction (albeit still somewhat vulnerable) she would rather reject the offer of money in the hope that she might achieve a life of normality. A life with love (well, with Max Branning!), a family and a home. Shes trying to start friendships and make connections. She dreams of becoming a mum to baby Abi. And having social connections and a purpose in life are exactly the things that someone in recovery needs to get well.

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Karen Tyrell, Executive Director at drug and alcohol charity Addaction said: Its unfortunately all too common to see stigmatising views and language splashed around in the media. That can shame and dehumanise people, making it harder for people to reach out for help.

When soaps portray the person behind the issue, showing the audience that they are deserving of our understanding and empathy, it undoubtedly encourages others to seek out support and find recovery.

More: Soap spoilers

EastEnders are doing a good job of reminding us that everyone deserves a chance of a new life. Telling stories of people who struggle with drug and alcohol problems, showing their hard-won steps on the path of recovery and celebrating them getting their lives back on track is hugely important.

So EastEnders are doing a really great job of letting us see Rainie the person, not Rainie the addict.

But how Max responds to her could well impact on her recovery…

Will she find love and purpose, boosting her confidence and self-esteem? Or will Max rebuff her, making her feel worthless and alone?

MORE: Emmerdale spoilers: Where has Faith Dingle taken Sarah Sugden?

MORE: EastEnders spoilers: Jealous Rainie Cross sabotages Max Brannings date with laxatives

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