New two-part SBS documentary series How ‘Mad’ Are You? addresses mental illness in a way never seen before on Australian television.
Ten Australians, from all backgrounds and ages spend a week together. Five have a history of mental illness. Five do not.
One of the 10 has a history of anorexia so severe that they feared drinking water would increase their weight. One member of the group has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder - during periods of mania they’ve impulsively spent large amounts of money before then succumbing to weeks of deep depression.
In a unique experiment, the 10 volunteer to take part in a series of specially designed psychological tests and challenges overseen by clinical psychiatrist, Dr. Steve Ellen.
These tests are designed to highlight the symptoms and character traits which could indicate some of the most common disorders affecting Australians - clinical depression, social anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anorexia nervosa.
Could a gambling test at the roulette table reveal impulsive behaviour, which indicates bipolar disorder in one participant? A ‘fixation test’ recording tiny unconscious movements of the eye, uncovers who in the group may have a distorted body image, and points to a history of anorexia nervosa. A task given to copy a complex drawing might reveal excessive attention to detail and accuracy, signs of OCD.
Three experts with a wealth of different experience diagnosing mental illness have no contact with the participants, but look on closely. Professor Jayashri Kulkarni is the Director of Australia’s largest psychiatry research centre. Jan Macintire is Senior Psychiatric nurse in one of the country’s busiest emergency hospitals. Professor Tim Carey is a clinical psychologist working in Alice Springs. They are putting their reputations on the line as they face the task of working out who’s been diagnosed with a history of mental illness and who has not.
The results are surprising and unexpected, as the fine line between being "well" and "mentally ill" becomes blurry. Questions are raised about the meaning of diagnosis, the stereotypes, stigma and social implications that come with the label of a diagnosis, and the value of seeing the person behind the diagnosis.
As the five participants with a history of mental illness are finally revealed, they share inspiring personal stories of resilience, and are living proof that a history of mental illness doesn't have to define you or make you "other".
Marshall Heald, SBS Director of Content and Online, said:
“At the heart of SBS is a commitment to contribute to a more cohesive society. One in five Australians experience mental illness every year, and How ‘Mad’ Are You aims to start a conversation which will help break down stigma and challenge assumptions about what it means to have a mental illness.”
National mental health charity SANE Australia has served in an advisory role in the making of How ‘Mad’ Are You?. Jack Heath, SANE Australia CEO said:
“Over the past decade, we have made great advances in reducing stigma around depression and anxiety, but there is still a great deal of work to be done to help those living with more complex mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, severe and enduring mood disorders, OCD and PTSD.
“Documentaries like How ‘Mad’ Are You? can help to open up important public discussion around mental illness stereotypes and stigma - conversations which are often ignored. Through sharing the experiences of people living with complex mental illness, we hope this series will increase awareness of symptoms, reduce stigma, encourage people to seek help for mental health concerns and reinforce hope amongst those living with the same diagnosis.”
How ‘Mad’ Are You? is a Blackfella Films production for SBS, with principal production investment from SBS in association with Screen Australia.
Sally Caplan, Head of Production at Screen Australia, said:
“Producer Darren Dale and writer and series producer Jacob Hickey from Blackfella Films have a proven track record of delivering thought provoking social impact documentary series for SBS including Screen Australia funded titles Filthy Rich and Homeless and First Contact. I’m sure this new series will start an important national conversation about mental health, a subject that is too often ignored.”
How ‘Mad’ Are You? airs over two weeks, starting Thursday 11 October at 8.30pm on SBS and SBS On Demand.