Gill Stannard

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Mental health

This week has been extraordinarily one for Australian documentaries on TV. The most talked about being Andrew Denton’s illuminating doco on mental health, “Angels and Demons”.

For those of us who have fortunately never experienced psychosis or auditory hallucinations this sensitive and thought provoking program may be the closest thing to helping us understand a little of what it would be like. The show introduces many talented individuals living with a wide variety of mental health issues, who share their world with Denton.

ANDREW DENTON: It feels to you as though you live between worlds, is that right?
HEIDI EVERETT: Yeah, yeah. My feet are on this world but my head's in the next world. And I think that's why I was made so tall.
ANDREW DENTON: What's the difference between the two worlds?
HEIDI EVERETT: Um one smells funny; one sounds funny; and like everything's weird about one but the other one's really cool and right, makes sense. Everything's logical to me and yeah.
ANDREW DENTON: So the one where you feet is, feet are sorry, is the one that smells funny and doesn't make sense?
HEIDI EVERETT: Yep. Yeah, takes a lot of working out all the time. You can't just get up and go oh today I do this and da-da-da. It's just like just so much effort that goes into sorting things out just to get up out of bed, yeah.
Angels and Demons

New Zealander ARANA PEARSON, mental health educator and a person living with schizophrenia, leads Denton and a group of health professionals through the experience of being formally assessed and daily life, while hearing voices. Even second-hand this is an extraordinary experience, one of the best I have witnessed on the subject.

Also on the ABC was a documentary on youth homelessness centred around the Savation Army’s youth refuge “The Oasis”. The program of the same name follows the youth workers and some of the adolescents who call The Oasis home over a period of two years. Many of those the centre helps are suffering from mental health illnesses or substance abuse issues and are clearly falling through the cracks of the current system. Most, if not all, the youths interviewed come from highly dysfunctional families – suffering physical and emotional abuse and neglect from an early age. The Oasis accurately portrays the real story of youth homelessness in metropolitan Australia and gives an insight into the individuals behind the statistics.

Viewed together, these two documentaries give us a framework of understanding into the lives of those that the majority of us may cross the road to avoid. If, even briefly, this gives us greater empathy and understanding for others, it has to be a good thing.

“Angels and demons” can be viewed online at the ABC site. A transcript is also available.

The Oasis website contains clips, updates and discussions arising from the program. The full documentary can be viewed online.

No comments: