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October 13, 2004
New Documentary Film on Schizophrenia in UK
New Film from the BBC on schizophrenia - "LOVING CHRISTIAN"
This month sees the broadcast of a "fly-on-the-wall"; documentary about what it's like for a family to live with schizophrenia. Part of a five-programme series on BBC 2 about families coping with disabilities of various kinds, "My Family: Loving Christian"; features Paul and Georgina Wakefield and their younger son Christian, now aged 30, who has had schizophrenia for almost half his life. Christian's older brother Stephen did not want to take part.
The documentary was directed and produced by Ewan Marshall, who produced the tv drama "Time You Look at Me"; about the relationship between two physically disabled people, and who has a physical disability himself. To make the 50-minute programme Marshall, his co-producer and his cameraman spent a week with the Wakefields, filming Christian and his parents Georgina and Paul as they went about their ordinary lives.
Not that the Wakefields are an ordinary family. Georgina has been campaigning for years to raise awareness of the needs of carers of people with schizophrenia. She has written and published a book about her own experiences with Christian: the early signs at age 16 that all was not well, the holiday from hell when his mental health broke down completely, the battle to get medical attention, the repeated breakdowns and hospital re-admissions, the huge learning curve as the family struggled to get information about the condition and Christian's treatment, the drugs that didn't work until they hit on clozapine, and his gradual progression since starting on the drug from 24-hour hospital care to supported living in his own flat and a part-time clerical job with the local mental health trust. Three years ago she set up a consultancy, Spotlight on Schizophrenia, running training sessions for mental health professionals on what it's like being a carer of someone with schizophrenia. She is also the NIMHE Eastern Regional Development Centre's fellow for carers.
Georgina heard about the documentary through Reg McKenna, the Eastern RDC's expert by experience, who sent round an email saying that the BBC was looking for a family willing to be filmed for the series. She, Paul and Christian were interviewed and selected over eight other families. Georgina says she had no hesitation in putting them forward: "I hate the thought of seeing myself on the television because I am overweight, but it's the passion I've got about mental illness and the difference it makes to peoples attitudes to you." If the people with personal experience won't speak out about it, public attitudes will never change, she believes. "Too many people hide it away. That's why things are like they are. Although to be honest if anyone asked what was wrong with Christian I used to say he suffered with his nerves. But once I started writing the book I thought no, I'm not going to not talk about it."
Georgina is nearly crying herself as she describes how Christian came home in tears because he'd been called out of the local swimming baths by security guards concerned that he might pose a threat to the children. Local residents protested vociferously when they learned that the flats where Christian lives were intended for people with mental health problems; the flats are near a primary school. "We were already very anxious about how he'd cope moving into his own flat. Then we had these letters in the press saying We don't want people with mental illness around here". A hundred people protested at the school. That's 100 people in a small area, and they say it's getting better. A lot of crap, that is. We aren't doing enough about educating people. If we tackled stigma it would make a huge difference" she believes. "People don't have the courage to say things to your face. But my answer is: Learn. Learn what it's all about. Don't be so bloody ignorant. Paul agrees: "All the time things stay in the shadows, things won't change - It's been pushed under the carpet for so many years and we've created one of the biggest problems in society.
Christian says he isn't bothered by the thought of being on national television. "I wasn't working then and so really pleased. I thought it would be a good thing to get on with. He [Marshall] was a friendly man, so what's the matter with that? I hope it will portray a good picture of people who are happy people, nice people. We deserve recognition. Most people take it for granted that they feel ok and healthy. Maybe they will stop thinking it only happens to other people.
He hasn't seen the finished documentary yet. Georgina and Paul have seen the final edit just once and admit they are a bit disappointed. Marshall hasn't included much of the positive material they say he filmed; the more upbeat interviews. But they seem resigned to the portrayal. "The BBC have got the film they wanted. We wanted something with more positive outcomes, for carers to show them there's a reasonably normal light at the end of the tunnel, Georgina says.
Marshall freely admits he knew very little about mental illness when he embarked on the programme; that was one of his reasons for choosing it as his topic: I felt I would be fresher because I knew so little about it. That's part of the interest in making programmes; you learn yourself, as well as teach the public. His aim was quite simply "to capture what their family life is like and the impact of Christian's illness, in the past and now and what it means for the future. We didn't want to go down the medical route. We wanted the understanding of schizophrenia to come from what we see in front of us and what the Wakefields tell us; Interestingly, Marshall says, he came up against quite a lot of opposition from health professionals, who thought the film might create more harm than good in terms of increasing public understanding of severe mental illness. "People were suspicious of our motives, and quite protective of Christian. I am glad they changed their minds, he says. "We were filming anyway. But you have this terrible circle if you constantly do that. If you can't have someone on the television saying "I am a schizophrenic", you are always going to have that fear and ignorance.
He is sensitive to the Wakefields disappointment;I think it is really difficult for them to watch, but we talked about it a lot afterwards and I think they understand it's a true picture. The biggest area of slight tension when you are making this kind of film is that people always want to put a positive gloss on things, because of all the negativity in the press. But this is not an advert; it's a portrait. If you don't show how difficult it is, you have no programme. I would hope I've made a film that did no one any harm.
Luckily Christian has a lot to be positive about, and there's a lot improving for him. But otherwise things are very difficult for him and it's very difficult for his family to see that on tv.
David Crepaz-Keay, director of Mental Health Media, is impatient with programme makers who seem simply to want to feed the public patronising stories about tragic victims. "It's the old debate: are the media there to feed public opinion or are they setting the agenda? In the case of the BBC, I don't think public service broadcasting is about giving people what they feel comfortable with. It and our job is about moving the agenda along.
Liz Nightingale, media officer at Rethink, says there's a "delicate balance" between getting mental health into the public arena through the media and avoiding portrayals that reinforce stereotypes and prejudice. People making programmes need a narrative. They need something to happen. It can get to a point where programme makers say "How do we portray mental illness if you don't let us film someone experiencing it?"
What we are always crucially aware of is that by asking one of our media volunteers to be interviewed you are asking people to talk publicly about what is probably the most difficult time in their life. You need to make sure they are fully briefed and supported before, during and after, so they feel it is a positive experience rather than end up feeling exploited or a freak show. It's someone's life you are talking about, and that's much more important than a single tv programme. If there's any doubt we just say no. But mostly we get really good feedback; people enjoy being able to get their experiences out there in the public domain and help tackle the stigma, which is what they mostly do it for.
Story Source: http://www.scbnetwork.org/
More Information and to Purchase related Books and Videos: Spotlight on Schizophrenia Web Site
Producers of the Film: Mental Health Media
Posted by szadmin at October 13, 2004 02:29 AM
More Information on Schizophrenia Personal Story