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 people’s 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.

Balancing act
Mental health organisations are often the first port of call for journalists and programme makers wanting to be put in touch with people with direct experience of mental illness. Says Katie Brudenell, public relations manager at Mental Health Media: "There's a fine line between exploitation and education. What we would want a programme to be representative of the person's whole experience, not just focusing on the tragic but also looking at the positive outcomes. But it's the shock and tragedy factors that draw audiences in and that's quite disempowering for the person who is featured. Whole aspects of their life can be simply cut out and that's it's important to build up a rapport with the director, find out what they are hoping to achieve and whether your story fits into their vision.";

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


how can i get hold of this doco/video

i live in nz and im doing a study on schizophrenia for school

Posted by: Tessa at June 13, 2005 09:42 AM

That is a really interesting article. My sister has schizophrenia and I know the stigma attached to it in the press. As a matter of fact Im begginning a thesis on the portryal of schizophrenia in T.V. dramas and wondering if anyone could steer me towards info around this area. Thanks!

Posted by: Matthew K at March 13, 2006 03:19 AM

I would also like to know where it is possible to obtain a copy of this documentary.

Posted by: LAura at April 4, 2006 07:53 AM

I am working as a psychologist in a rehabilitation center for patients of schizophrenia. The center is run by an NGO in Delhi,India. We are not in a position to pay for the documentary. Can we request for a free copy of the documentary as a donation and help to our efforts to learn more about the illness and create more awareness?,how?

Posted by: Amar Ingavale at May 13, 2006 08:13 AM

I have seen that documentary and to tell you the honest truth, I'm not totally convinced that he has schizophrenia. I believe he is faking it.

In one scene, he is asked how often auditory hallucinations come about and he said that he gets them usually once or twice a day. Then in another scene, he says that he doesn't experience them. Towards the end of the program, Christian says that the voices are in his head.

You see, I feel that Christian is malandering. Why would you say that you hear voices, say you don't hear them, and go back to saying that you do?!!

Posted by: Derek Roland at June 13, 2006 10:48 AM

How would I obtain a copy of the documentary on the Wakefields?

Did you include any of the more positive moments the Wakefields referred to in the outtakes or deleted scences of the DVD version of the film? If not, why?

Posted by: Kesi Miller at August 3, 2006 07:29 AM

I would like to comment on Derek Roland's comment regarding he thinks Christian is "faking". Since this is email, I want to clarify, I am in no way attempting to sound nasty or have a rude tone. BUT, I couldn't help but feel the need to respond to Derek, and others who share his opinion. My brother who was diagnosed with schizophrenia almost 9 years ago, does the exact same thing. My brother has the illness to the level that he is not "ill" enough to be in a mental hospital, but not "well" enough to be on his own. On most days, he is able to hold a pleasant conversation, remember the dirty dishes go in the sink, and take his medication. Other days (most days) he couldn't tell you the day of the week it is, how to make a hard boiled egg (even though he made one yesterday), and can't understand why the voices tell him horrible things, why his posters talk to him, why he swears if he continually writes prayers on paper, folds them up really, really small, and hides them all over his room, then that will help "to keep the voices away". This is the same young man, who makes crosses out of legos, swears someone put a spell on him if that certain person isn't in the best of moods toward him, and if he, in the small miracle took a bus that needed a transfer to another bus, he will confirm the way he got to the 2nd bus was by alien spacecraft. I haven't even scratched the surface. But, the inbetween days, the days when he is feeling really good, and the medication seems to be working, he will look his doctor in the eye during his monthly checkup and just because that exact moment he feels good, he can honestly tell the doctor, "hey I am better now, I don't hear the voices," and will, for that moment seem ok. Yet, 2 hours later, will come home and tell our mother the parakeet is possessed because he is pecking at the mirror too much, will also blame me for mental telepathy towards him, and will swear everyone is out to get him. Schizophrenics will say one thing one day, and something else another, because it is a MENTAL ILLNESS. The so-called "normal" people watching the movie and have the intelligence to notice a "slip-up", well, seriously, that's fantastic you're brain is capable of noticing things and can determine the difference between one day to the next, and no what is real and what is fake and what is "just in your head". Mental illness sufferers do not have that luxury. My brother, will never have that luxury or peace of mind that you and I do when we go to sleep, wake up and can tell the difference of the dream we had the night before, was just that, a dream. NO, it was not real. We have that luxury. So, please the next time you watch something of that order, take into consideration that the subject is dealing with a brain disorder.

Posted by: Michelle at October 22, 2006 09:39 PM

I am at drama school in Birmingham and i am currently in a play, and my character has schizophrenia. So i would really like to get hold of a copy of the documentary so i can do a character study. Please tell me how i can get hold of it. Thankyou.

Posted by: Charlotte Grundy at January 25, 2007 12:26 PM

Hi, I have a Son with schizophrenia. I would be very interested in obtaining a copy of the documentary if possible. My Son is 22 Years old and currently hospitalized against his will. Thanks, Dan Canada

Posted by: Dan at May 6, 2007 08:21 AM

Hi, I am Christian Wakefields personal assistant. I have been working with him for six months. He is an inspiration to me. He is gentle, kind and honest.He can have good and bad days like all of us.I feel deeply for the pain he goes through when the voices he hears, come and go. I sit patiently and listen guiding him back to reality. which sometimes can be quite sad to see. I try to make him laugh and see the funny side to life and give him lots of praise, on how far he has come so far.Christian is gaining confidence everyday, he can be very quiet at times except when we have music on. He has this remarkable ability to remember songs and often sings word perfectly, i only dream one day he will be able to communicate as well as he can sing.

Posted by: d.claxton at June 5, 2007 10:36 AM

where can I get a copy of this documentary?

Posted by: Joy at June 8, 2007 10:19 AM

Hi,you can get a copy of the documentry by logging on to georgina wakefields official website. You can also by her books. D. claxton

Posted by: d.claxton at June 10, 2007 04:44 AM

Thank god people are willing to challenge the person who says that my son Christian is faking it, my god if only you knew how much he suffers. He had the immense courage to go on National TV and say this is me yes I've been given a label but I'm a good honest human being, the fact that sufferers can face another day is a miracle. To conclude I say if only, if only my son hadn't been affected by this tragic life event.

Georgie Wakefield.

Posted by: Georgina Wakefield at June 11, 2007 05:53 AM

Iv'e read and re read Derecks comments how can he possibly beilieve that Christian is "putting it on" to say that I [his mother] am angry is an understatement!! Chris spent 5 years in rehab, he's lost the best years of his life. He has suffered public ignorance so bravely,does he think that his entire family were "in on this?" words fail me buy my books Dereck then and only then will you have some idea of the pain that my son has suffered.Most people would have crumbled within a month let alone 17 years!!! words fail me

Posted by: georgina wakefield at June 11, 2007 06:36 AM


Posted by: AMIR at November 13, 2007 02:56 AM


Can any body provide information regarding NGO working in NCR(DELHI Region) for
Schizophrenia patient for rehabilitation.

Thanks In Advance

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Posted by: Kennedy at June 16, 2008 08:20 PM

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