Finding humour amid the challenges of mental health

By Don Groves

When the producers and crew from Northern Pictures started a 12-week shoot in the locked mental health units of South Western Sydney’s Campbelltown Hospital for a 3-part ABC documentary, they had no idea what to expect.

What they discovered during the filming of Changing Minds: The Inside Story, which screens on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights as part of Mental As….week, was surprising in some respects, not least the level of humour.

“In parts it’s very funny,” Northern Pictures MD Sue Clothier tells IF. “Some of the patients have a great sense of humour, as do the clinicians.”

On a deeper level, the creative team was impressed with the unit’s success rate of rehabilitation. “Some patients were at risk of taking their own lives,” Clothier said. “The programme shows that people can fully recover and go on to live fulfilling lives, although some do relapse.”

In the first series the crew was given unprecedented access to the locked mental health units of Liverpool Hospital. For the follow-up the producers decided to focus on youth, primarily teenagers and people in their 20s.

Series director Cian O’Clery and producer Jenni Wilks filmed more than 30 patients, of whom eight withdrew their consent for various reasons.

The programme follows 10 patients including Nicholas (aged 18), a bullied schoolboy who relieves his anxiety by self-harming; Daniel (20) whose cannabis addiction is masking psychotic symptoms; Taileah (20), a recently graduated nurse whose suffers from auditory hallucinations; Nathan (24) whose schizophrenia has him talking to Hitler and Muhammad Ali; and Joel (18), a rebellious teenager struggling with a tragic past.

The oldest, David (47), believes he is Elvis Presley.

The concept was created by executive producer Karina Holden and supervising producer Alison Black. Northern Pictures retains the international sales rights. Clothier says she is yet to decide on a distributor but she is closing in on a US sale for the first series.

As for the chances of a third series, she says, “We would love to do one if the ABC wants it.”

Changing Minds: The Inside Story screens on Tuesday 6 October at 8.30pm, Wednesday October 7, 9.35pm and Thursday Oct 8, 8.35pm.

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