Moving away from home to start university was possibly one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Filled with enthusiasm at the idea of living far away from what I hated most about my city, I was suddenly hit by the ugliness of reality. And the aftermath was bad. The words of a nurse from my high school trying to help me after my very first panic attack resounded in my head: “If you don’t talk about it, it will get worse, until you won’t be able to leave your house anymore”.
Unfortunately, the premonition turned out to be right. Too afraid to tell my family how unhappy I was in Scotland, knowing they would want me to go back home, secretly disappointed by my weakness, I decided to pretend everything was fine. But of course that didn’t help. The only thing that seemed to give me some relief was watching films before going to bed. This is something my family has always done. Punctually, after dinner, we would all sit on the couch, pretending to watch a film, but actually just slowly falling asleep next to each other. By the time credits rolled, everyone would try and comment on a film no one had actually seen before finally heading to bed.
Since most days I was actually feeling too bad to leave my room, or my bed even, for a while I spent my time taking naps, preceded by a film. On one of my good days, I ended up talking to someone who told me about how they had managed to watch 365 films in one year. Secretly happy to accept the challenge and give some sort of direction to my new favourite hobby, I waited until New Year’s Eve to finally start counting.
Film number one was Aladdin. I watched it while drunk, miserable and surrounded by people I didn’t know that well. The underwhelming celebrations of the start of 2015 led us somehow to watch a film we all knew and loved. And deep down inside it felt quite cosy and familiar after all. After that, I went back to watching films mostly alone, trying to pick classics and cults at first, but slowly just ending up watching whatever was available on Netflix. I then decided to explore what independent cinema had to offer, until I found myself watching very obscure experimental films on Youtube, and eventually went back to classics.
To my big surprise, from the very beginning, people seemed to be genuinely interested in what I was doing. This provided me with a perfect ice-breaker and conversation starter, one that actually led to interesting chats and helped me feeling more comfortable around people. After three or four of months, I actually felt like I had a lot to say about films and consequentially didn’t feel too nervous about talking to someone new.
Films brought me closer to others in a number of ways. From establishing the ‘Film and Pizza Tuesday Night’ in my flat to joining various cinema-related clubs and societies at university, every little step helped, but the main way this experience changed me is a less obvious one. I started spending some quality time with myself. Going to the cinema or having a meal alone seems to be a stigma most people can’t get over. But sometimes treating yourself with a ticket to your favourite director’s new film and a bucket of popcorn you won’t have to worry about sharing with anyone can actually turn a bad week into a good one. By spending more time alone I got to know myself and learn how to listen to my body’s needs, whether it be a break or a hug.
Despite me noting all the titles of the films watched in 2015, some have inevitably faded in my memory, while I’m sure others will stay with me for years ahead. Alongside some indisputable masterpieces such as 12 Angry Men and Casablanca, and some underestimated pearls such as Amores Perros and A Separation, I believe two films in particular are worth of mention. It’s Such a Beautiful Day was the film that really made my year memorable and my challenge special. Don Hertzfeldt’s odd animation explores the life and fragile psyche of Bill, a not very expressive yet incredibly humane stick-figure. The sounds and visual effects used by Hertzfeldt evoked intense feelings I still look back to when going through a really bad time. Bill’s direct and sincere story had a surprisingly delicate aftertaste and life after It’s Such a Beautiful Day has been somehow lighter.
I’m Starting from Three was one of the few films I watched with my mother. Written and directed by Massimo Troisi, the film follows Gaetano’s adventures as he decides to leave his small town. Besides Gaetano’s fears and worries being highly relatable to mine, I’m Starting from Three showed me sides of my country of origin I have never experienced. It left me with a faint yet comforting sense of belonging and being able to share that moment with my mother was priceless.
Delicate life portraits such as these made me aware of the importance of films as a powerful means of communication. Through the use of various techniques and genres, complex messages and sensations, films can really get across the screen and reach the viewer, leaving marks that words alone could never elicit. As such, it’s hard to put into words what watching these 365 films have done for me or how they have improved my mood and my daily life. But the voice of that nurse from high school has been replaced by Hetzfeldt’s resigned, yet immensely reassuring words: “Isn’t everything amazing?”. Films gave me the strength to listen to myself and speak to others. I feel an indissoluble link between me and the rest of the world now and I know it’s partly because of every single one of those 365 titles.
by Ludovica Credendino
This weekend, we have two full days of screenings, selected from this year's International Film Competition at the CCA in Glasgow. Join us to see how this inspiring programme can broaden your understanding and help improve your mental health. Book your tickets here.
A poignant selection of short documentaries and dramas that portray the resilience of women at defining stages of their lives.
Sat 15 Oct, 1pm–3pm
Margot believes she is being stalked and tormented by someone named Dan, but discovers she has schizophrenia. Now, she struggles to build a life as a young independent woman, while trying to reclaim the years she lost to the disorder. A brave and honest look at mental health, stigma and moving forward.
Sat 15 Oct, 4pm–6pm
When Tom Fassaert’s 95-year-old grandmother invites him to visit her in South Africa, all he knows about her are his father’s stories about the 1950s femme fatale who put her two sons in a children’s home. An unexpected confession makes things more complicated than he could have ever imagined.
Sat 15 Oct, 7pm–9.30pm
An inspiring selection of short films addressing mental health in which young people played key creative roles.
Sun 16 Oct, 1pm–2pm
A candid and intimate portrait of outsider artist James Condos. Screening with Lima, a gorgeous animated film about a son’s struggle to keep the memory of his father alive, and TRANSition, a brave and honest documentary about a young transgender man.
Sun 16 Oct, 2.30pm–4.30pm
MIND/GAME tells the compelling story of basketball phenomenon Chamique Holdsclaw, the “female Michael Jordan”, from her rise to WNBA stardom to her struggle with mental illness and the strength she called on to speak out about it. Preceded by Hula, Robin Haig’s hip-shaking drama about liberation.
Sun 16 Oct, 5pm–7pm
Suffocated by his overprotective parents and tired of being a burden on their lives, a troubled young man decides to leave the security of his family to find himself and his place in life. An intimate coming-of-age story about independence, acceptance and the importance of letting go.
Sun 16 Oct, 8pm–10pm
Now, let me start this review by stating that I am not an easy person to make laugh. I’m nearly hitting my mid-fifties and have slowly, unnoticed, slipped into that bracket of “grumpy old men”, where I stare at some contemporary comics on the TV and wonder where my first laugh will come from. So it was with trepidation – for Felicity, not me – that I took on the role to review her show at the CCA in Glasgow on World Mental Health Day.
We were ten seconds in, yes, ten seconds, when I succumbed to my first uncontrollable burst of laughter, as Felicity opened her show with what seemed like a manic, unscripted, friendly tirade of funny references to herself and her mental state – and indeed the mental state of the audience for being there in the first place on a Monday night! Her opening instantly won everyone over as she emitted total confidence, displaying her natural gift for off the cuff humor through a hilarious Q&A exchange with her audience.
Felicity described how the night would go by stating that the first half would be her flying by the seat of her pants, improvising and trying out some new material. The second half was material taken from her acclaimed show at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. I have to be honest here and say I preferred the first half, where I felt Felicity’s natural comedic talents really shone through. The second half was very funny in its own right, but more anecdotal and without quite the same ratio of gags fired out in the first half. Having said that, Felicity certainly showed an appetite for performing at this well attended evening. Her overall show was first class and very funny, and this “grumpy old man” has to thank her for that.
by Colin MacGregor
There is a strong comedy programme in the west of Scotland at SMHAFF 2016, including Gary Little's tour and an impressive line-up at The Therapy Room's Comedy Weekender. For for more information about our comedy events, click here.
Felicity Ward Image: Andy Hollingworth
More than 50 years after the founding of his most famous project, the radical treatment centre Kingsley Hall, RD Laing is attracting as much attention as ever. He is currently the subject of a play in development from writer and director Pamela Carter and the National Theatre of Scotland, and his Kingsley Hall experiences will form the basis for a forthcoming film, Mad to Be Normal, starring David Tennant. Some of the fascination Laing holds can be explained by the wild, quintessentially 1960s nature of some of his methods, some by his highly unconventional theories about mental illness, and some by the details of his personal life.
Born and raised in Glasgow’s Govanhill, RD Laing trained in psychotherapy in London and went on to develop new theories about the origins of mental illness, focusing on schizophrenia in his book The Divided Self. Laing challenged traditional ideas about diagnosis and the use of treatments such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Downplaying the role of genetics and looking at the importance of social context in sparking mental health problems, he was strongly associated with the anti-psychiatry movement. He pioneered various treatments, encouraging patients to ‘embrace’ their impulses to madness and promoting the experimental use of psychedelic drugs.
Partly as a result of the notoriety these treatments understandably attracted, Laing’s work became well known outside the circles of psychiatry. While many of his theories are now subject to fierce critique, he is seen as having left an important and singular legacy, and his publications are still widely read today.
At the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival’s day in residence at the National Theatre of Scotland’s Home Away festival, Pamela Carter discussed the development of her play and RD Laing’s legacy with psychiatrist Dr Peter Byrne and The Herald's Keith Bruce in a session titled RD Laing: Biography and Authenticity. Before the event, Talking Heads reporter Emma Lawson spoke to Pamela about the workshop, the issues involved in developing a play about a real person and her views on how RD Laing’s life and work are perceived today.
Could you tell me a bit about the play and what it covers – are you looking primarily at RD Laing’s personal life, or focusing on his work?
I’ve tried to look at his work and him. So it’s definitely about RD Laing but I’ve tried to use RD Laing as a method of procedure, if that makes sense. Rather than say, ‘this is his life’, I’ve tried to be as RD Laing as I can while talking about his ideas and trying to understand his ideas.
I’ve realised that I shouldn’t be writing a biography – I have no right to talk about the person I’ve created as the real RD Laing and I’m certainly not saying that I’m offering any revelations about his life. […] All the sources that I’ve used are public sources, and the biggest – the greatest – expert on RD Laing is RD Laing.
At the RD Laing: Biography and Authenticity session, is there anything in particular that you want to make attendees consider?
No – I’m interested in simply hearing what people think about RD Laing and his legacy – because some people are still quite angry about him.
Yes – because his work is still quite recent, really.
Yeah, because he died in 1989. But in the 60s and 70s, he was on everybody’s lips. And then he totally dropped out of fashion through the late 70s and into the 80s. And there was a real backlash against him as well, with regard to ideas about anti-psychiatry, and there was a feminist backlash as well, and there was also a general embarrassment about aspects of his behaviour and his alcoholism.
I guess some people use his personal flaws to cast doubt on his work.
Yes, absolutely – it’s that idea of ‘Doctor, heal thyself’. But I think he’s amazing – I think it’s an amazing life and amazing work. I find it quite a shock that he disappeared so quickly – from conversations in Scotland as well – conversations about who should be remembered and who should be celebrated.
I feel like he’s rarely acknowledged as Scottish, possibly because most of his work was done in London. I remember seeing they had one of his books at Tramway during the Turner Prize exhibition, and thinking it was nice to see the link.
There’s a great film by Luke Fowler that was nominated for the Turner Prize one year, about RD Laing. Fowler is a Glasgow-based visual artist, and he made a film that was partly drawn from the RD Laing archives, but also cut together with his own filming around Glasgow. It's called All Divided Selves, and it’s a really beautiful film. When I watched it five years ago, it made me realise that I could write a play about this – that there was a different way into it that wasn’t very representational, that wasn’t traditional narrative or biopic from beginning to end.
Sometimes I wonder if Scotland might be collectively embarrassed about RD Laing. By the time we’d got to the late 60s, early 70s, he’d lost it a bit, and I think that’s what people remember. But the work he was doing in the late 50s and 60s, and how he was speaking about madness and agency and communication and understanding, which applies to all our notions and our identity and ourselves, is pretty fantastic and up there in terms of European philosophy – he’s up there with Foucault. So I’m surprised by how little he’s been celebrated, although that’s maybe changing now.
I was wondering what your thoughts were on the relationship between madness and theatre, and about representing mental health issues onstage?
I wanted to talk about Laing’s work and the journey he went on in terms of talking about madness and identity and self, so I started to work out, how do I have those discussions onstage? The way you might do it would be to have the patient and the doctor, but then how do you show someone being mad, or having the experience of madness? I started to feel very uncomfortable. […] There is this conflict between reflective, real investigation of madness and the demands of entertainment.
For a while I had one actor, who would be a patient in all different manifestations of RD Laing’s theories, but then I wanted them to be able to talk back, and it just didn’t work at all. […] That has now gone entirely, so I’m left with a play which I think will be for six actors, all of whom will be RD Laing. The idea being that everyone is clearly an actor – there’s no aspect of ‘I have to look like RD Laing’. Because also I didn’t want to write a play in which a load of middle-aged white men sit around smoking and pulling their beards while women wander around being a bit mad in the background, because frankly if you read the books, that’s really what it comes across as – so it’s how to avoid that onstage as well.
Yes – looking at Kingsley Hall, it’s interesting how his interaction with his patients seems quite gendered.
And there were no female doctors, were there?
No, it’s nearly always the man-as-doctor, woman-as-patient dynamic.
I do find it very interesting – because Laing calls himself a ‘Scottish male chauvinist pig’ […] but I don’t see him as a misogynist at all – I see him certainly as a man of his time, and of his politics, but he also he mainly treated women.
I think it’s interesting that he starts to look at society and see how society demands of the individual certain behaviours. You can see that particularly in the interviews with his female patients. What he doesn’t then make the leap to, possibly because these are women from certain socio-economic backgrounds – working-class, lower-middle-class, where their minds are very constricted, particularly in the stultifying atmosphere of the 1950s – is that possibly women were going mad because there was a disconnect between what they were allowed to be in the world and what they felt themselves to be. But he never made that leap to feminism – to say, okay, this is a patriarchal structure.
When I was researching this piece, I found it quite hard to sum up his ideas – there’s so much there that it’s difficult to simplify.
I spoke to one expert, a clinical psychologist at Maudsley Hospital who has a side-line in the history of psychiatry, and he said that for whatever idea or interest or theory you have in madness and its treatments, you can find a version of Laing to suit you. So if you are anti-establishment or anti-medicine or pro-medicine or whatever your theory is, you can use Laing and find something to fit.
by Emma Lawson
Home Away, the National Theatre of Scotland's festival of participatory arts, continues until Wednesday 12 October. For details and tickets visit homeaway2016.com.
Talking Heads reporter Callum McLean reviews Pondlife, which was performed at Platform in their Headspace programme at the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival. The play tells a story, known intimately by most people but neglected in public, which is essential to the modern world.
From the very beginning the world is a strange and confusing place to us. Hence, as soon we acquire a basic understanding of speech and language, most of us attempt to challenge the world we know so little about, demanding more information, questioning everything and everyone, before our juvenile embarrassment slowly blossoms to corrode our once imperative inquisition. The once vocal questions to our esteemed elders quickly retreat to a new place – one equally as strange and confusing as the world around us – ourselves.
Aimed primarily at children aged 9+, Pondlife is a one-man performance. It tells the story of Martin and Simon, two boys who become best friends after Simon, who was raised in Birmingham, moves to Martin’s Scottish school at the beginning of primary five. The two remain inseparable all through the year and the summer, becoming fully content with their own friendship and referring to their more obnoxious seeming peers as ‘Neanderthals’. As time passes, however, Simon’s football skills are noticed by the ‘Neanderthals’, and Simon’s new bond with those he once ridiculed eventually tarnishes the once solid friendship between the two. Simon grows ever keener to avoid Martin and join the other group.
In Pondlife the ‘Neanderthals’ chose who was allowed to hang around with them and those who could not. And it was the ‘Neanderthals’ who could decide what was and was not cool at that time. Who gave this specific group of children this level of stature to call the shots on these subjects at such an age? And why, again, is this story so ever present in today’s world?
Simon was good at football, and this made him far more popular, whereas, at the age of ten, the class consensus was that Martin was not good enough at football to receive an invitation of friendship. An example of the general rule, common on playgrounds everywhere, that a young boy with sporting ability is more respected than one who is not. But at this age, just as a hierarchy of classroom popularity is developing, children never ask: why is this?
At some point in our life, we gain the ability to ask ourselves: what am I and what should I be? Almost subconsciously, we learn the answers through our surroundings. Looking at our peers, the latest top selling musical artists and obsessing over our intuition of the latest trends, we obtain a relatively vast array of knowledge. Despite our self-disciplined education, one which even our older generations notoriously struggle to comprehend, there appears to be rare time for a child to learn to ask: who am I?
After having spent years of quizzing and learning, the most confusing and difficult years to date appear, just as the essential questions of life we so long sought the answers to dissipate into a façade of classroom credibility. Never do we learn at a faster rate than our youth, but can be a time absolutely detrimental to our mental development which will ultimately affect us for the rest of our lives. Although, obviously, it is very important to note how everyone’s development at this time varies, the scale of our lack of education in mental self-reflection cannot be ignored.
If there is one thing the play highlights, it is this serious issue which appears to be ignored far more than it is understood in the modern world. How did a child as young as Simon stop asking what he wanted to know about the world, and focus instead on what he wanted the world to know about him? Of course, the effects of this can be drastic in the long term, as shown in the play, where Simon and Martin’s friendship ended all communication for a total of 30 years.
The performance concludes at the point right before the two meet again, provoking the audience to question how much forgiveness Simon is owed regarding his actions made thirty years before, and thus to question who is to blame for the falling out, with 30 years hindsight.
And in these situations, who is to blame? The answer is more complex than simply naming a ten year old boy. What seems far more plausible is how easily the world around us can educate us in ways in which we are very unaware. This appears true throughout many ages, but the younger we are the more susceptible we appear to this potentially damaging influence.
Although a clear answer to this issue is not immediately apparent, it seems clear that children today can be forced away from anything from their train set to their trend set far too easily against their will. Therefore, one helpful conclusion could be to closer examine the relevance of this play, and the relationship between modern trends and expectations about growing up, which affects the way we ultimately feel comfortable treating each other. It is clear that this discussion should be held far more commonly throughout every stage of our lives.
by Callum McLean
MORE EVENTS AT Headspace
Headspace is the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival's annual programme at Platform in Glasgow, which this year celebrates its first decade. All events are free unless specified.
Creative Collective members worked with artist Katy Dye on a restorative storytelling project that straddles art, technology and social engagement, bringing people and communities together. This installation takes the form of a recorded, spoken and written word tour of Easterhouse.
The Art Factory present a large collaborative installation created with artists in residence, Mitch Miller and Heather Lander. Inspired by stories and memories of Greater Easterhouse, members of the The Art Factory have created their own unique community map.
Robbie has noticed that people bump into him in the street and nobody ever really looks at him — they always look to the side or beyond him. This powerful show is all about caring, exploring the life of a young carer and why he feels invisible.
Mon 24 Oct
£8.50 | £5 | £4
A day of celebration featuring some of the innovative projects that have shaped Platform’s first decade. The events reflect Platform’s aspirations of being recognised as a centre for excellence for public engagement, and celebrate examples of innovative practice from around Scotland and beyond.
Fri 28 Oct
A cross-generational interactive performance and audio event that celebrates the stories, histories and communities of Scotland’s dance floors.
Sat 29 Oct
£8.50 | £5 | £4
Talking Heads reporter Emma Lawson reviewed Dan and Margot, ahead of screenings on Mon 10 Oct in Edinburgh and Sat 15 Oct in Glasgow. Both screenings will be followed by a Q&A with director Chloe Sosa-Sims.
The opening scene of Dan and Margot is set in a swimming pool on a sunny day. Margot walks away from the camera, while hostile whispering – at odds with the scene – fills the speakers. Then the scene shifts, and Margot explains what she heard: a voice, sometimes multiple voices, mocking and harassing her. She knew the main voice as a man named Dan, and it was only after being diagnosed with and treated for schizophrenia that she understood that his presence was a hallucination.
Dan and Margot deals with Margot’s everyday life seven years after her diagnosis: her relationship to her illness, her relationships with other people, her ambitions and her frustrations. It is an intimate portrait of a person living with schizophrenia, and very focussed on Margot herself, rather than generalising about her diagnosis.
Part of this focus is due to Margot’s bold character: she is funny, adventurous and – while sometimes guarded – often painfully honest about the impact schizophrenia has had on her life. The film follows her as she takes part in the common pastimes of a twenty-something – gigs, road trips, drinking sessions – but it also doesn’t shy away from letting her talk repeatedly about the sense that her life has been diverted. In one of the most poignant moments, she explains that she feels she has lost her sense of self: mentally because of her illness, and physically as a result of the effects of medication on her body.
One reason for the film’s intimate nature may be the friendship between Margot and co-director Chloe Sosa-Sims; during one discussion, Sosa-Sims explains to the camera why she wanted to make a film about Margot’s life, and why she wouldn’t trust anyone else to do it. The balance between portraying events honestly and respecting Margot’s privacy is managed well, with Sosa-Sims acknowledging the difficulty of making a film while being close to the subject, especially when some of Margot’s symptoms reappear.
The film’s effects help express aspects of Margot’s story: during one sequence, an anecdote she tells is illustrated by drawings. Vivid and beautiful, they emphasise the strangeness of what she experienced, helping the viewer to engage with her story. The effect of whispering recurs, enabling the viewer to experience Margot’s audio hallucinations. This is particularly effective at the start of the film, when it isn’t clear what the viewer is supposed to believe, and overall the film excels at conveying the fear and confusion Margot feels.
The film doesn’t attempt to define schizophrenia, engaging only briefly with ideas about Mad Pride and the pros and cons of medication. While the film’s focus on Margot is one of its greatest strengths, it may have been helpful if the film had spent more time exploring these issues. One of the most interesting sections occurs when co-director Jake Chirico introduces Margot to another woman who has schizophrenia, an artist called Sarafin. Margot and Sarafin’s discussion, where they relate their experiences and look at the different ways their illness presents, is fascinating and seems a genuinely positive moment for Margot.
Avoiding coming to any simplistic conclusions, the tone of the film varies when showing how Margot deals with her illness, mirroring how her attitude fluctuates throughout. At times she is very optimistic, but during bleaker moments she acknowledges that she will never be able to completely move past her illness. The film acutely emphasises how simple things – job searching, dating – are made harder for her because of schizophrenia and the associated stigma. However, acknowledging her struggles doesn’t make Dan and Margot pessimistic; Margot’s energy and determination to live the life she wants ensures that the film ends on an uplifting note.
A compassionate and realistic portrayal of the difficulties of living with schizophrenia, Dan and Margot is an intriguing film and an important one. Although there is an increasing awareness of some of the most common mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, other conditions including schizophrenia remain highly stigmatised, with people who have these conditions often facing ignorance and discrimination. By presenting viewers with a real and non-sensationalised account of schizophrenia, Dan and Margot is valuable in combatting prejudice. Margot may be unique, but – as she rightly says at one point – her illness isn’t that uncommon.
by Emma Lawson
Monday 10 October, 7-8.45pm
Saturday 15 October, 4-6pm
£5 | £3