Tuesday, 4 July 2017

CRAZYWISE - the Brecon screening

“Crazy…or wise? The traditional wisdom of indigenous cultures often contradicts modern views about a mental health crisis. Is it a ‘calling’ to grow or just a ‘broken brain’? The documentary CRAZYWISE explores what can be learned from people around the world who have turned their psychological crisis into a positive transformative experience.”

On the longest (and probably hottest) day of 2017 I was at The Wellington Hotel in Brecon with PAVO colleagues, community groups, staff from mental health services and individuals to watch this new documentary film by directors Phil Borges and Kevin Tomlinson. The free community screening had been arranged by Avril Meyler of Emerging Paradigms in partnership with PAVO and Brecon community organisations. My colleagues Anne Woods, Philip Moisson and Jane Cooke helped organise the event and also facilitated the open discussion sessions following the screening.

Regular readers of this blog will know that we are keen to promote alternative approaches to looking at mental health distress, asking what has happened to a person who is in mental health crisis rather than concluding that something is wrong with them. So we were delighted to be asked to be involved in the first screening of this groundbreaking, powerful and as it turned out, very moving film, in Powys.

Avril explained in her introduction that she first saw CRAZYWISE at an #EmergingProud event 
in London during Mental Health Awareness Week in May and knew immediately that she wanted to bring it to her local community. (She has written about the Brecon screening on her blog: A Multidimensional Paradigm).  Avril anticipated that the documentary would prompt much interesting discussion, and suggested some of the questions we might ask at our tables once we'd watched the film, such as: “What can we learn from people who have successfully navigated a psychological crisis?” and “Is it time to pay more attention to the psycho/social and spiritual underpinnings of mental health and bring a more balanced approach to mental health care?”

Phil Moisson, Anne Woods, Avril Meyler, Jane Cooke, Andy Hall, Paul Stephens
And so to the film. “CRAZYWISE follows two young Americans diagnosed with “mental illness.” Adam, 27, suffers devastating side effects from medications before embracing meditation in hopes of recovery. Ekhaya, 32, survives childhood molestation and several suicide attempts before spiritual training to become a traditional South African healer gives her suffering meaning and brings a deeper purpose to her life.” 

Interspersed with Adam and Ekhaya’s stories are interviews with mental health professionals and indigenous peoples, and the director Phil Borges discovers: “a growing movement of professionals and psychiatric survivors who demand alternative treatments that focus on recovery, nurturing social connections, and finding meaning.” 

In the early scenes of CRAZYWISE, human-rights photographer and filmmaker Phil tells us what inspired him to start filming. After many years documenting indigenous cultures, he realised that their interpretation of “psychotic” symptoms as a journey of spiritual transformation is completely different to the way that psychosis is regarded in the West and a deep curiosity drew him to find out more. In an interview with Frontier Therapy magazine Phil describes changing his mind about “mental illness” – which he used to think was caused by a “chemical inbalance in the brain. “I now look at it as a natural transformational process waiting to happen. Unfortunately our culture does not look at it this way and so there is little support in helping the individual find meaning and purpose in their suffering."

Round table discussions

The film prompted some really thought-provoking discussion throughout the remainder of the day. Without divulging personal stories, I picked up on several key themes: 

The not so good…
  • Questions about what has happened to you are never asked.
  • In Powys the first port of call for someone in mental health distress is the GP – so people are set on to the medical route right at the start.
  • If a GP was amenable to other options what would they offer? What is the alternative in Powys?
  • It is horrendous trying to fight for help if labelled as an “alcoholic” or “nicotine-dependent.”
  • People are labelled as having a problem when often the problem is external, such as work-related stress.
  • If you have a problem outside Mon-Fri 9 – 5 you are stuck mental health-wise.
  • Some people feared that if they referred to a spiritual experience that this would just add to their medical diagnosis.
  • Patients with a physical illness are trusted to understand and monitor their medication. This happens far less with mental “illness”. 
  • Being challenging is not an illness.
  • Doctors will always be in control as they prescribe the medication.
Jane Cooke, Senior Officer Mental Health at PAVO and Tania Dolley, Psychologist at Powys Teaching Health Board

The opportunities for different approaches…
  • “When I am in emotional crisis I want a community that welcomes the symptoms and says it will be alright. That is so healing.”
  • “This could be a half-way house that accepts me for who I am. I don’t mind if the people there are peers or professionals, so long as they are the right people. This would save money as it would prevent long-term issues from developing and also possibly hospitalisation.”
  • There should be a support system for people using services to empower them to question treatments and medication.
  • In the film the professionals who supported The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) are now against it. Some people in the system are more open-minded.
  • "It would be nice to present a “basket of fruit” to the world – what works for one person is different for another. Someone might want a peach one day and a nectarine the next."

Andy Hall edits One in Four three times a year, available from Brecon & District Mind

And other questions and comments…
  • Several people were keen to find out more about shamanism. (In some cultures a psychotic experience is viewed as a calling to become a healer or shaman). Others pointed out that a spiritual way is different for everybody – it could be a drumming session…. it could be being a mother….
  • Medication works for some people and sometimes it can be helpful. In the film this was also stated.
  • There are no psychiatrists or community psychiatric nurses in the room today. Where are they? We want them to hear our story.
  • Are the professionals the community leaders of our time in terms of spiritual growth and connection? Or can it just be about grassroots social connections?
The hope now is that we can acquire the licence to show CRAZYWISE to many more audiences throughout Powys, so that further discussion can be stimulated and ideas gathered about changing the response to mental distress in the county.
What do you think? Would you be interested to see the film? If so, get in touch, or leave a comment below. You may also like to find out more about Open Dialogue, the Spiritual Crisis Network, and the Hearing Voices Network.

Whilst the film was running I was transfixed. It’s compelling stuff. I lifted my pen only once to write down a quote from mental health advocate and counsellor Will Hall who said: “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual is basically a sophisticated way of not listening to people...” 

But as the film reinforced over and over again – people just want to be listened to no matter what they're going through.

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