74 Nick Kelly Song­writer and award­win­ning Film Di­rec­tor

Hot Press - - 100 Voices On Mental Health -

Just be­fore we filmed The Drum­mer And The Keeper, I was asked to sit on a panel at an event in St Pa­trick’s Hos­pi­tal at which por­tray­als of men­tal health in cin­ema were ex­am­ined and de­bated. The au­di­ence was a mix of ser­vice users, fam­ily mem­bers and clin­i­cians. Tellingly, we were all asked to re­frain from tak­ing pho­tos for the du­ra­tion.

Dur­ing the clos­ing dis­cus­sions, some­body in the au­di­ence asked whether I thought my own film – the story of an un­likely friend­ship be­tween a rock mu­si­cian with a bipo­lar di­ag­no­sis and a young man with Asperg­ers Syn­dome – would change neg­a­tive pub­lic at­ti­tudes to­wards men­tal ill­ness.

I replied that I hon­estly thought the main thing that would change at­ti­tudes to­wards men­tal ill­ness would be for more high pro­file peo­ple to “come out” about their own di­ag­noses.

A young woman then stood up and said that, while she ap­pre­ci­ated the the­ory of what I was say­ing, there were more peo­ple sit­ting on our panel (there were four of us) than there were west of the Shan­non, where she came from, who were aware of her di­ag­no­sis – and that if peo­ple in her own com­mu­nity were to learn of her con­di­tion she would face dis­as­trous con­se­quences in her fam­ily, in her re­la­tion­ships and in her work. Her men­tal ill­ness was some­thing that had to be kept se­cret at all costs.

I found her re­sponse com­pletely un­der­stand­able, tragic, and crys­tallis­ing of the dis­tance we as a so­ci­ety need to travel in our think­ing and feel­ing. One in four Ir­ish peo­ple will have treat­ment for a men­tal health prob­lem dur­ing their life­time. So whether it’s our own ill­ness, or that of a part­ner, re­la­tion, friend or col­league, sooner or later each of us will have to deal with this is­sue first-hand. I don’t have any med­i­cal train­ing, but it seems to me ax­iomatic that how­ever chal­leng­ing the clin­i­cal ef­fects of one’s con­di­tion may be, those ef­fects can only be com­pounded if you also have to pre­tend that noth­ing is go­ing on, and can’t reach out for sup­port from the peo­ple around you.

This hid­ing away also al­lows ter­ri­ble – and ter­ri­bly fa­mil­iar – stereo­typ­ing to per­sist: in film, for ex­am­ple, one often sees char­ac­ters with men­tal health con­di­tions de­rided and de­monised in a way that once was ac­cept­able – but cer­tainly would not now be – in por­tray­als of black, fe­male or gay peo­ple.

I know that it takes mas­sive courage for any in­di­vid­ual to pub­licly ad­mit to a men­tal health prob­lem – and I would com­pletely re­spect and de­fend their right to not take that step un­til and un­less they are ready to.

But the more peo­ple who do man­age to take that brave step – and the more that those around them ap­plaud and sup­port them in so do­ing – the harder it is for our so­ci­ety to ig­nore this most com­mon hu­man re­al­ity, and the more ed­u­cated, en­light­ened and em­pa­thetic we all in­di­vid­u­ally be­come.

One in four Ir­ish peo­ple will have treat­ment for a men­tal health prob­lem dur­ing their life­time.

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