A producer's experience

Peter Beard, Garden Productions

To make this film we spent months conducting research with various services within South London and Maudsley (SLaM). We’d always been keen on including community mental health, it is such an enormous part of the work performed by SLaM and felt to us like the front line of mental health care. We wanted to reflect the realities of this challenging work, following actual narratives of people walking a tightrope with their mental health as it happened and the teams who act as a safety net. I feel that these realities are rarely reflected accurately in the media and as a result it is important to demystify the work performed by community teams, especially taboo subjects such as being sectioned.

Many of the teams we approached were naturally very suspicious, but Sarah Hall from SLaM's Communications Department helped us negotiate their concerns. When Sarah introduced us to Dr Tom Werner, one of the consultants at Speedwell Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) in Lewisham, the meeting felt very positive from the start. He immediately understood what we were trying to do. It wasn’t long before we visited the CMHT to attend one of the team meetings. Speedwell has a very positive atmosphere in general and it was apparent straight away that the team were very confident in their work and receptive to what we wanted to do. Dave Nath, the series director, and I were immediately enamoured with them.

If the staff and clinicians were not onboard it would be impossible to meet and engage with service users and to follow the challenges and successes of their life. Many of the care coordinators were approachable and a few were happy for me to shadow their work, without a camera to start, to get a sense of what they actually do.  

The first home visit I went on was with Dr Werner and Jim Thurkle, a social worker. We visited one of Jim’s clients, Tamara, a woman with a persistent delusional disorder about bed bugs who was very unhappy with her medication. Jim and Dr Werner told me it wasn’t always straight forward working with Tamara, which intrigued me straight away. When we arrived I explained to Tamara why I was there. Tamara was happy for me to stay and completely ignored me as soon Jim and Dr Werner got started. I found that first meeting with Tamara fascinating, she is a very interesting, likeable and opinionated woman. I’m not sure what I’d imagined a psychosis service user to be like, but Tamara certainly won me over.

When travelling back to the CMHT, Jim, Dr Werner and I talked through the pros and cons of including a case study like Tamara’s, whether there were consent issues and how we could try and approach them. There were challenges but we thought it would be possible if she was happy and truly understood the proposal and those in her support structure were happy too.

Not everything was this easy however. As I met more and more of the care coordinators it became apparent that many of the case-load wouldn’t be appropriate for us. There were lots of consent  and safeguarding issues. Also, and just as important, people have to be very brave to want to share their story on television, especially when it’s something as personal as their mental health.

Thankfully the care coordinators, team managers and consultants at Speedwell were incredibly patient with us. We met lots of clients who would be appropriate and the teams supported us in finding ways to film them through their care and potentially when they became unwell. Over the four and a half months we spent with Speedwell CMHT we were able to film the extraordinary stories of several of their service users.

We have made a film we are very proud of. I think it accurately reflects the challenges faced by psychosis sufferers, their families and the people who try to keep them well.


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