Changing Minds: journey from mental illness

Pick of the day: Changing Minds: The Inside Story, 8.30pm, ABC. This three-part series screens tonight and the next two evenings, a key focus of a week of programming on mental illness, health and wellbeing across television, radio and online.

Producer Jenni Wilks and director Cian O’Clery take us on a journey with young mentally ill patients on their road to recovery, from breaking point to rehabilitation in the locked mental health units of Sydney’s Campbelltown Hospital.

The 10 patients — more than 30 were filmed — include Daniel, 20, whose cannabis addiction masks psychotic symptoms; Taileah, 20, a recently graduated nurse whose stress manifests in auditory hallucinations; 24-year-old Nathan, whose schizophrenia allows him to converse with Hitler and Muhammad Ali; and Fabrice, 36, a barrister’s son with persecutory delusions.

They generously agreed to be filmed during the acute phases of their illnesses, their stories not related retrospectively but allowed to unfold in crisis, a serendipitous process hardly within the norms of production schedules and crew call sheets.

It meant there was no guarantee patients would continue to consent as they became increasingly in touch with their real selves — and, as O’Clery says, no guarantee existed that the stories would be engaging to an audience.

Well, they certainly are — this series is not only informative and intensely moving at times, if often uncomfortable viewing, it’s also philosophically profound and often very funny as taboos and stigmas about mental illness are confronted and challenged.

It’s skilfully and compassionately directed by O’Clery with sensual photography from Simon Morris creating a feature film look with a shallow depth of field causing distractions to melt away.

Bravo to all involved, especially the charming and witty Mark Cross, the psychiatrist at the centre of this absorbing, character-driven observational series.