TV Tonight review of 'Changing Minds'

2014-10-06_0011 Central to the success of many documentaries is gaining the access and trust of your subject. It can make or break a good doco.

In ABC’s Changing Minds, Producer Karina Holden from Eye Spy Productions, has managed just that: first-time access to Liverpool Hospital’s Mental Health Unit.

Capturing footage of patients, staff and families, this 3 part doco is sometimes confronting, but never dull. Hearing the perspectives of three groups of people as they all aim for the same outcome -but with differing agendas- is fascinating.

The magnet throughout this series is the patients. All have consented to be filmed (with formal consent given after their recovery) and the spirit of many will draw you in. Grandmother Sandra lost her grip on reality following the death of her brother. She is loud, rude, fragile, brash and impertinent to younger staff who she deems unqualified to deal with her case. And she is infinitely more interesting than anyone you will see on Big Brother.

Sandra represents what Changing Minds seeks to reveal to a wider audience: that losing your grasp on reality can happen to anybody, but gaining it back can remain out of reach. That’s despite the caring efforts of skilled medical staff and the best of intentions by family to facilitate a healthy recovery.

Cameras are there when Sandra, who demands to be released, has her case heard by the authorities. They are also there when her sons discuss her progress. You feel for everybody in the room.

Other patients featured in the series include a man who believes he is pregnant with God’s baby, a man who was brought to Liverpool after an altercation with his neighbours (under the impression he would be there a few hours only) and a man who agrees to electro-conversion therapy -it’s nothing like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, thankfully.

The degrees of health vary from patient to patient. What is remarkable is that most appear to grasp that they are unwell. While the documentary does not shy away from despair, there are also lighter, even funny, moments to avoid this becoming a lesson in worthy storytelling.

Clinical Director Dr. Mark Cross and his team also keep us grounded in the medicine, indicating how patients have progressed, or in some cases, regressed. Behind the professional doctoring, it’s easy to see they are personally connected to those under their care.

Changing Lives has an agenda in mind in broadening our understanding of the issues and the individuals surrounding this most delicate subject, but it achieves it with insightful and entertaining skill.

8:30pm Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday on ABC