A director's experience

Making the older adults film: by Becky Lomax, Director

“I’m as mad as a hatter!” Peter replied when I asked him why he was on the older adults psychiatric ward at Maudsley Hospital.

Early on, we had decided it was important to make a film about the work of the older adults’ services and to give a voice to over-65s with mental health problems. Professor Robert Howard, Consultant Old Age Psychiatrist, introduced us to his team at the older adults ward, who care for the most severely ill and vulnerable over-65s in crisis. There were real challenges here - some of the patients I met lacked insight into their illness, some were too unwell to articulate how they felt, and a significant number of patients didn’t have any family members I could talk to.  There were also challenges in terms of how to film their treatment on the ward and there were ongoing discussions with the Trust about whether or not we should film electroconvulsive therapy.

Even with those challenges, I was excited at the prospect of being part of something that could work to break down the stigma around mental illness and give people in that situation a chance to share their experiences.

We filmed on the ward over a period of five months and in that time were able to follow the unfolding stories of Peter, Lorraine and Vera as they underwent treatment and therapy on the ward and as they returned to life in the community.

Peter was admitted to the ward after taking an overdose. When I first met him, he seemed both erudite and sage but had very interesting beliefs, namely that he could communicate with an Egyptian god in his right hand. He had very much grown to love the community of people he’d met on the ward and I was interested to see how he would cope living out in the community with no friends or family in London.

I remember the first time I met Lorraine in Professor Howard’s ward round. I was struck by how challenging it must be for the nursing staff to treat and care for patients who are unable to articulate or express how they are feeling. Throughout the filming I was constantly amazed by the nursing staff who do such a fantastic job of looking after the patients.

When I met Vera, the doctors had told me she’d been admitted to the ward with psychotic delusions and that she believed they were imposters. Although her delusions had gone, she was still suffering with extreme anxiety. I always enjoyed spending time chatting to Vera and the other patients, and I felt that it was hugely important that we spent time doing this, prior to any filming taking place.

We introduced the camera to the ward slowly, at first bringing it in just to show patients, but not necessarily to film anything. Gradually, we filmed more and more and patients became quite used to us turning up each day with our camera kit. We had agreed that if at any point either the staff or patients wanted us to stop filming, we would put down the camera and stop filming.

I came away with the sense that in society, old people and people with mental health problems come at the bottom of the heap, so I felt strongly that I wanted to make a film to give these people a voice. What also struck me is that many of the patients I met on the ward had reached the age of 65 with no sign of mental illness, and the sense that you can live a life free of mental illness but how all of a sudden things can change.  I hope the film gives a real insight into mental illness, both from the perspective of those treating it, and those living with it on a daily basis.

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