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Peace of Mind - talking on TV

written by Rachel Evans, Series Producer, Bulb Films 06/12/2012

I began to think it would be impossible to tell the extraordinary stories of ordinary lives we knew were out there.

‘How do we know you won’t make us all look like nutters?’

It was a pertinent question and came at the end of a very long meeting about the three part documentary series on mental health we were planning to make for BBC Wales.

We were hoping to find contributors willing to share personal and often painful stories about their own mental health with a television audience of tens of thousands, so we invited around a dozen service users from across South Wales to a meeting in central Cardiff this April to find out more. And they asked a lot of questions.

The truth was, I didn’t know. I had no idea what it’d be like to film people who were mentally ill. I had 15 years experience as a documentary film maker, but this was new territory for me. I didn’t know what bringing a camera, microphones, lights and an intrusive line of questioning into people’s lives would mean. I didn’t know how they’d react, and I had no idea how I was going to visually interpret something going on inside a person’s mind and make it understandable to a television audience either. But I knew there was a huge and important story to be told about living with challenging mental health, and I hoped that telling it would help break down barriers and reduce stigma around this taboo subject.

I began to think it would be impossible to tell the extraordinary stories of ordinary lives we knew were out there.

We negotiated access to Whitchurch Hospital, but staff were rightly concerned about client confidentiality and their ability to provide ‘informed consent’ for filming. I drafted agreement documents, which were redrafted, and rewritten, and re-examined. We were months into the project without shooting a frame. I began to think it would be impossible to tell the extraordinary stories of ordinary lives we knew were out there. But slowly, contributors came forwards. They got in touch to tell us what it was really like to live with mental health problems; the battles with authorities, the uncaring employers, the friends who looked the other way. We met in coffee shops, on hospital wards and in temporary housing and while the production team tried to be as clear as possible about the sometimes intrusive nature of filming, the long hours, the anticipated reactions, our contributors didn’t flinch. They wanted to tell their stories, to be heard.

But I will also remember the smiles, the sharing of hopes and aspirations, the positive steps taken on a long but realistic road of recovery.

We filmed for 4 months. Stories of depression, alcoholism, diagnoses of bipolar or schizophrenia which were often hard to hear, harder to tell. The missed opportunities and the lifetimes of regrets were those that stayed with me when the cameras stopped rolling. But I will also remember the smiles, the sharing of hopes and aspirations, the positive steps taken on a long but realistic road of recovery. I hope we’ve made a series worthy of the six extraordinary contributors who were brave enough to take part.

They deserve every chance to be heard, and there isn’t a ‘nutter’ among them.

Rachel Evans, Series Producer, Bulb Films

If you would like to write a blog post about your experiences of stigma or related issues, email info@timetochangewales.org.uk

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