Mind Media Awards - A review of the drama shortlist
Posted Thursday 24 November 2011
This guest blog is part of our series on the Mind Media Awards to be held on 28 November 2011.
I’m really interested in mental health, but I don’t know a great deal about it. I’ve never studied psychology or anything like that – just picked things up from watching TV, reading the papers and talking to other people. But I like learning that way, and I think dramas are a great way of indirectly educating ill-informed people like me about issues we might not otherwise hear about.
So I really enjoyed reviewing the shortlist for the drama category in the 2011 Mind Media Awards. This year’s nominees are: Casualty – Place of Safety, Holby City – Skipping a Beat, and Exile.
Dr Ruth Webster has been sectioned and is in a psychiatric ward against her will: she is adamant she doesn’t need to be there.
The only person she seems to listen to is one of the other patients, and she’s deeply mistrustful of the psychiatrist, despite being a doctor herself. Eventually she starts talking to him. She says there was a patient called Mary, who kept coming into the hospital claiming to be ill, without actually having anything physically wrong with her.
Ruth had been trying to prove that Mary was just an attention-seeker but, one day, she had been brought into the hospital, seriously ill, needing urgent medical treatment after poisoning herself. When Ruth asked what she had taken, all Mary had been able to say was that she had just wanted Ruth to notice her.
At this point, the psychiatrist asks if Mary died, and Ruth gets confused and scared because she can’t remember. The psychiatrist then explains that the human mind can play tricks on us and tells Ruth that her mind invented Mary in order for her to be able to talk about her own problems.
I suppose it all sounds a bit far-fetched… but, then again, that’s the nature of mental health, isn’t it? It can manifest itself in all sorts of different ways, and even affects people like doctors, who appear to have it all together on the outside.
In the end, they dealt with that really well. They only had an hour, after all. And I suppose regular Casualty viewers would have seen for some time that there was something not quite right with this character.
It’s really sad when Ruth realises what has happened to her – it must be terrifying finding out that what you thought was real is actually a delusion – but at least it ends on a positive note. She asks them to help her and there is the suggestion that she will be able to get better.
This drama is a bit different; it has lots of plot-lines and the focus isn’t exclusively on mental health.
One patient though, called Eric, had been in hospital because he needed stitches for a self-inflicted wound.
He’s a really nice character – sweet and humble. But it’s clear he isn’t getting the help he needs, because he just wants to please people. He tells them he’s been doing really well recently, that today’s injury was just a one-off.
The psychiatric nurse tells one of the concerned doctors, who thinks Eric should be in a therapeutic community because he’s got a borderline personality disorder, that because Eric’s told them everything’s fine, he is free to go.
When he ends up back at the hospital, having drunk bleach, you can’t help feeling a bit annoyed with ‘psych’, because all they did before discharging him was ask a few questions requiring ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. Things like whether he’d had any suicidal thoughts recently, whether he’d been burning or cutting himself, or whether he’d been taking drugs. And Eric had just answered ‘no’ to everything because he didn’t want to be a burden.
Sectioning isn’t the answer, though. If the need for Eric to be responsible for himself is taken away, it would make him worse not better.
So, in the end, they suggest to Eric that he agree to a short voluntary, residential stay where he can get continuous treatment. Which is what the doctor had said he needed to begin with.
It must be difficult to know when to intervene in a situation like that, and I guess this episode highlights how the appropriate action often isn’t taken until it’s almost too late. You could see how a series of minor events led to Eric harming himself again. And, even with all the other stories going on in this episode, it was still possible to understand what made him do what he did.
Unlike the first two, this is a three-part series, it isn’t set in a hospital and none of the characters is a health professional.
It’s about Tom, a disgraced journalist, who goes back to live with his dad when he loses his job. His sister looks after Sam, the dad, who has Alzheimer’s and whom Tom hasn’t seen since he left home years before.
The sister is Sam’s sole carer and when Tom shows up she disappears and leaves him to look after him for a while so that she can have a break.
You really feel for her when you see what Sam is like – lucid one moment, and totally away with the fairies the next. Wandering around with no clothes on, unable to wash himself, forgetting his wife has died and talking to people who are only there in his imagination. Sometimes it’s quite funny. And sometimes it’s heart-wrenchingly sad.
Tom bumps into an old school friend in the supermarket, and ends up telling him that the reason he left home was because his dad beat him to a pulp. He’d never laid a hand on him before – he’d always been a loving, happy man – but something happened that made him angry and changed him forever. And Tom wants to find out what it was.
So that’s what this is about… his father had also been a journalist and had been working on a story about a local councillor, but then suddenly stopped, and Tom wants to find out why. He’s trying to dig up the past, but it’s really hard when the only person with the answers he’s looking for seems to be his dad.
There are many twists and turns in this story but mental health is central to it all. It’s a really realistic portrayal of Alzheimer’s and helps to convey what it’s like for the sufferers as well as their family and friends. The sister basically has no life of her own because of her dad, but she is really understanding because she really cares for him.
Tom is more prone to anger and that’s partly because he blames his dad for a lot of the things that have gone wrong for him. But the more investigating he does, the closer he gets to his dad and the less he holds him responsible for what’s happened.
I don’t want to give away the ending here because it’s such a gripping story and it’ll ruin it if anyone wants to watch it, but his discoveries are shocking and disturbing. He uncovers malpractice at a psychiatric hospital, and the more he digs, the more he finds out. And it directly affects him and he has to come to terms with what he’s learnt.
I don’t know how the judges are going to decide on a winner. All three of them were so well written and so well acted. I’m sure it’s going to be a tough choice. Good luck to them and to all the other media award nominees.
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