Artemis Theatre Company
Mental Health Service Users and those in mental distress unknown to the system often feel that they are on the very margins of society. Many live alone and because of the stigma surrounding mental illness and the general unlikelihood of people in long- term mental distress to belong to and participate in social groups and networks their sense of loneliness and isolation, which will inevitably contribute to and compound their existing illness, is unlikely to ever be either addressed or rectified.
Anyone who has been hospitalised for any length of time will generally no longer be working, if indeed they ever were. Many Mental Health sufferers have little or no support from their families and friends, especially if their illness continues over a long period of time. People who might have been supportive and concerned at first often drop by the wayside once an illness continues and the stigma existing around mental illness means that it is widely feared and often misunderstood.
The combination of stigma around Mental Health combined with a serious lack of understanding of the many forms mental illness can take mean that often people in mental distress will often hide it for as long as possible from their colleagues, friends or family and even their doctor. Consequently the numbers of people suffering are far more than are currently known to the NHS Mental Health system. These people in particular will not only be feeling suicidal, seriously depressed, hearing voices or self-harming or but these ailments will all be compounded by a sense of isolation because of the general unacceptability of people talking about these issues to each other in this society.
Around the country there are very few and in some areas no groups at all for people to attend who suffer from feelings of depression, suicidality or who self-harm but sharing ones’ feelings and experiences with other people can be literally life-saving. There are certain forums now on the internet where people can “talk” about such issues and the need for people to communicate with others and share their experiences in this way is very apparent but these forums are only supervised for misuse and no professionals are at hand to hear or help the people posting comments.
Because of their illness Mental Health Service Users who spend time on a psychiatric ward, unlike in a hospital that treats physical illness, are very rarely in a position or a state to complain if they suffer a bad or sub-standard experience in hospital. Their mind will undoubtedly be seriously disturbed by the time they get to the hospital making it hard if not impossible to bring a rational sounding complaint to the relevant authorities. Abuse and neglect does occur on psychiatric wards but there is little recourse for complaint or accountability and when such abuses do occur, people in mental distress because of their social isolation have little chance of ever sharing their experiences and stories with others who have possibly suffered in a similar way.
Earlier this year Artemis Theatre Company with funding from The Arts Council toured a play called HEARING VOICES to theatres around the country. This piece was written entirely from interviews by patients who had met on a psychiatric ward, the writer and director of the company, Clare Summerskill, being one of them. This play has now been made into a film version and three extracts from the film have been posted on You Tube.
There is also a website www.hearingvoicesplay.co.uk and a face book page about the project.
During the writer’s stay in hospital it became apparent to her that the nurses and the consultants ran a regime based solely on confinement and medication. The psychiatrists prescribed medication for the patients and the nurses were responsible for making sure that the patients took the medicine and were confined to the ward as long as the doctor determined. There was no significant or effective talking therapy offered so that no-one, even those who had tried to take their own lives were ever asked what had brought them to that point or what could be done to help them cope more effectively with those problems in the future. The stories that are told in this piece represent the voices of the patients that were never heard by the doctors and nurses.
The three extracts of the film that have been posted on You Tube will be able to be viewed there free at the point of access by Mental Health Service Users, the general public or by people in mental distress who might be suffering in their own home. In the same way that people with physical complaints look their symptoms up on the internet, very often people who have never experienced mental distress or illness before but are suddenly feeling mentally unwell will type in a search for words that reflect their own condition. “Depression, suicidality, hearing voices, self harm” etc. At such times the sites they find and the material they read or the videos they see are of crucial importance and can not only prove life-saving but can also empower people to see that there are others who suffer as they do but there is some help, some hope or at the very least some understanding to be found.
The three films are downloadable and can be seen together as a forty minute film by Mental Health groups and organisations and used either shown by them to other Mental Health Services Users they work with or to be used as a educational and training tool for professionals working in these organisations.
The intention of the films was to highlight the struggles of Mental Health Service Users, their experiences of mental distress and their treatment in hospital. The objective of this project was to challenge the stigma and discrimination which exists while highlighting the courage and strength of Service Users in overcoming the barriers within their recovery and thereby addressing their feelings of social isolation and loneliness.
Artemis Theatre Company believes that using film and drama is a powerful and justifiable method for education and social change. From their research and the writer’s own experience on a psychiatric ward they have seen and understood that there is a great need for people with Mental Health issues to share their experiences and to tell their stories. This need is not being currently met or even encouraged in hospitals.
In the film HEARING VOICES extracts of extremely moving and resoundingly truthful personal testimonies are told by professional actors. Service users who view them will be empowered by seeing their own similar life stories being enacted and by knowing that this film has been written by someone who has been through the psychiatric system herself with important contributions from other patients whose stories have been used to create a powerful portrayal of life on a psychiatric ward. Other Mental Health Service Users will have access to this film either from seeing it on You Tube or from it being presented by the many mental health groups and organisations that have already agreed to use it as an educational and training tool as well as hopefully many more with whom Artemis theatre are currently in communication.
Mental Health Service Users seeing this film presented by a group or organisation could be encouraged to share and talk about their own experiences with others in a way that would then increase their confidence and at the same time reduce their feelings of isolation and loneliness. It would be hoped also that this film could inspire creativity from other people suffering from mental distress who could see that it has been made by and for Mental Health Service Users who have created a dramatically moving as well as a socially important piece of work that has the potential to both entertain and empower their own community.
This film challenges the standard of service that mental health service users are currently receiving on psychiatric hospital wards as well as from the existing psychiatric services offered by the NHS. You Tube is the ultimate tool for disempowered and under-represented groups in our society to express their viewpoints and show their experiences through the form of digital media. It is free at the point of access, thus making it the perfect way for people from an isolated and disadvantaged community to not only empower themselves by seeing their own lives and stories dramatically portrayed and reflected but also encourage and inspire them to initiate their own creative projects using digital media.
The funding for the You Tube films was raised entirely from personal donations by people who had seen the play. Over the next few months Clare Summerskill is giving talks and screenings of the film to mental health groups and if Artemis were successful in this application the income would be spent on travel and accommodation expenses for Clare to give five talks and screenings of the film to mental health charities followed by Q&A sessions.