Mind Media Awards - A review of the documentary shortlist
Posted Wednesday 2 November 2011
This guest blog is part of our series on the Mind Media Awards to be held on 28 November 2011.
Documentary programmes are a useful way of raising awareness about topics in a ‘user-friendly’ format, often using the voice of experience (sufferers, friends and family etc) to illustrate living examples of the impact of the topic in question.
In no particular order the nominees are:
This documentary tells the story of the 3rd Platoon Charlie Company, known as the band of Brothers from Fort Carson, Colorado. Several of the original members share their story of how overexposure to battle led to PTSD, being ‘trigger-happy’ and murder.
Deployed to Iraq in 2004, the platoon suffered its first fatality just 2 months into their tour, the troupe returned home after a year only to be redeployed a year later (less than half the recommended time between deployments) — all part of a catalogue of errors that contributed to psychological damage and a murder spree in Colorado.
Failures in mental health care are glaring in this traumatic story where out of 42 soldiers originally deployed 15 left after a single tour, 4 were thrown out, 1 was imprisoned for drink-driving, 5 were medically discharged and 3 were amongst 17 soldiers from Fort Carson charged or convicted of murder or manslaughter in 4 years.
Despite an investigation showing how from recruiting soldiers with criminal records to deploying those on strong psychiatric medications, with drug and alcohol problems, the 3rd Platoon were overexposed to unusually intense combat trauma (being deployed for a total of 26 out of 39 months).
No-one has been held accountable for the mental health damage these soldiers have suffered and most receive no help or treatment. A truly shocking disclosure given that in the last 10 years more US soldiers have committed suicide than have died n combat and that number continues to rise each year...
Village of the Dolls
An interesting account of how, in April 2000, Mark Hogancamp was beaten so severely that he was comatose for 9 days and his face had to be rebuilt. After 40 days in hospital he was discharged as he could not afford to stay any longer. Just as he started to recover with the help of physical and psychological therapy his treatment stopped.
He had to relearn everything and had lost all of his memories. To find out who he was he read his own journals from before the attack and discovered he had been an alcoholic.
Then one day he started building, before the attack he would draw but now he was unable to do that he started to create his own world ‘The village of the dolls’, a town called Warwencol, home to soldiers and Barbies, threatened by the SS.
His building became his therapy, the figures alter ego’s of people he knows in real life. He was discovered when a local photographer intrigued by him ‘walking’ his truck of dolls stopped him one day to find out more.
Eventually Mark’s work came to be featured in a exhibition and we follow his journey to the point where in attending the exhibition he leaves his home town for the first time since the attack.
He recalls that the reason for his attackers beating him to the brink of death was because he told them he was a cross-dresser; he collects and wears women’s shoes, owning over 200 pairs.
But, he has not recovered and his personal ‘art’ therapy is just an escape from the real world, where he lives another life through his own alter ego and takes out his anger and frustration in his fictional ‘town’. He re-enacts his attack, leaving his alter-ego suffering as he does in real-life. In the disturbing climax we see how he is digging deeper into his fantasy world and detaching from reality as his alter-ego begins to build a model town, within Mark’s model town.
Chilean Miners – What happened next
The world watched as 33 miners were rescued after 70 days trapped underground when the mine they were working in collapsed. Even before they were out they had become celebrities, from Edison Pena running the tunnels and singing Elvis Presley songs, to Ariel Tacona whose baby daughter was born while he was trapped – and renamed Esperanza (Hope) as sign of faith that the miners would be rescued.
This story follows on with how after their escape they were all placed on full sick pay for as long as possible and given immediate access to counselling, medication and psychiatric care to help them cope with and recover from PTSD.
It is a legal requirement that they attend their weekly therapy sessions, but not all have been attending. The signs that they are struggling (even those who claim they don’t need the help) are apparent to family and friends in the changes in their behaviour, from nightmares, to drug and alcohol abuse.
In becoming celebrities they are achieving fame and fortune they would never have dreamed of before the accident, but they have been dehumanised by their experiences, both whilst trapped and since they got out.
Edison ignored his therapy using cocaine and alcohol as crutch while he copes with fame and worldwide appearances. Relationship problems have been rife, as has envy from the three miners who narrowly escaped being trapped – as another mine owner Leonado Farkas has been providing financial support to all those who were trapped but refuses to help those that escaped.
The video diaries of how four years of dolphin therapy helped Morad recover the ability to communicate following his attack when he was just 17.
Beaten almost to death for sending a text message his psychiatrist Dr Kutz explains how he believes the boy is suffering with Post traumatic dissociation.
In order to cope with the pain and survive his attack he had ‘switched-off’ and dissociated completely, only now he appeared unable to come back from his other world, unable to speak or communicate and experiencing anxiety and rage outbursts.
When it became apparent that verbal communication treatments were not working the doctor recommended dolphin therapy. Morad’s father sold a house and ranch and left his family to take his son for the treatment. Very quickly Morad began to love being with the dolphins and within 5 months he had begun to speak and laugh again, something that it seemed was very unlikely to ever occur without the dolphin therapy.
But this was just the start; he still wouldn’t acknowledge his past, his mother or go home. It was 9 months before he would speak to his mother but from there his progress continued, including falling in love. He recounts how the dolphins taught him to trust people again and communicate with them, but he still relives the attack at night. With the help of hypnosis and electromagnetic wave therapy eventually he is able to talk about the attack and testify so that his attackers are found guilty for what they did. At one point we see his attackers in the court house and their behaviour is indicative of no remorse for what they did.
After four years with the dolphins Morad is finally able to return home, but continues to receive support from Dr Kutz and visit the dolphins regularly.
Tulisa – My mom and me
N-Dubz female vocalist Tulisa shares her personal experience of growing up as a young carer, for a mother with mental illness.
Her mother has Schizoaffective disorder and Tulisa describes what it was like growing up as her mom’s carer and how she has suffered her own problems as a result.
In addition she goes out to meet other young carers to find out how being the child carer of an adult relative (the mother in each of the cases shown) has affected their lives.
Tulisa recalls her first memory of knowing her mom was ‘ill’ as being when she was about 5 years old and the police and ambulance staff forcibly removed her mother to hospital and from then her mother was sectioned on what seemed to be an annual basis.
Similar to her own experiences she discovers that the other young carers experience problems with their education, friendships and confidence. Having herself ‘gone off the rails’ truanting, smoking marijuana, dropped out of school and not taking her GCSE’s when from the age of 13 her carer role began to take toll on her own ability to cope.
Unlike many young carers Tulisa had her music to fall back on and ‘escape’, having joined N-Dubz at 13 and writing music to cope with the troubles at home. Realising that the other young carers may not have an escape route like she did she sets out to help them, such as connecting them with young carer support groups, where they can make friends with people who understand and are going through similar things.
While support is out there it is not always easy to find or access, as one girl Hannah points out – the carer support group Tulisa finds for her is a long way for her to travel to.
Tulisa is also interested to find out if mental health problems are hereditary; worried she may end up like her mom. A psychiatric assessment shows that she has a predisposition which increases the likelihood of mental health problems, along with the genetic risk factors that are a reality she cannot avoid.
But for now, she continues to enjoy her fame and fortune, even if it does increase her risk of developing problems in the future...
Experiences of support
The thing that strikes me most about these different accounts is how the UK (Tulisa’s story) and US support (Village of the dolls & Wounded platoon) for mental health problems seems to be the least forthcoming. Whilst in Chile (Miners) and Israel (Dolphin boy) support is more readily available, even being a legal requirement in Chile.
What does this say about our ‘great’ nations?
Each of the documentaries gives a fascinating glimpse into 5 very different worlds, each very deserving in its own right, which one should get the award? I know which one I favour, but I’ll leave it to the judges!
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