Hollyoaks has been applauded by a mental health charity for its upcoming plot regarding a character's diagnosis with schizophrenia.

An episode of the Channel 4 soap set for broadcast on August 7th will see teenage character Barry 'Newt' Newton (Nico Mirallegro), diagnosed with the mental illness following a lengthy storyline involving an imaginary friend named Eli (Marc Silcock).

The diagnosis follows an incident in which Newt hears Jack Osborne's (Jimmy McKenna) voice on the phone - believing Jack to be dead - and convinces himself he has killed his foster father, not realising that Jack has faked his own death in an insurance scam.

"Newt is distraught when he hears Jack's voice on the phone," explained Nico Mirallegro.

"He convinces himself he must have killed his foster dad in someway and is now hearing voices from the grave. When Newt is then told that Eli is a figment of his imagination he gets really confused as to what is real and what's not, the irony being Eli isn't real but Jack is."

The young actor, nominated for best newcomer at this year's British Soap awards, added: "It's been amazing to have been involved in such a great storyline and I've enjoyed the challenge of playing a character with schizophrenia. I hope the viewers enjoy it too."

And the storyline has been praised by mental health charity Rethink.

"It's great that Hollyoaks is addressing the experience of schizophrenia," said Paul Corry, director of public affairs.

"One in 100 young people will go through the frightening experience of psychosis just like Newt – that's about ten in the average secondary school, it could be one of your mates. So it's a good chance to ask yourself, how would you react if someone you care about got ill like Newt?"

He added: "Schizophrenia has symptoms that can be confusing and scary, but people affected are often sensitive and creative just like Newt.

"He isn't just some weirdo, he's someone who is unwell. With decent help and support he can get better and have a normal life."

25/07/2008 00:00:30