Tuesday, 2 July 2013



Part of BBC3’s I’m Not Mad season, designed to raise awareness and understanding of mental illness in young people, Don’t Call Me Crazy is an honest, compulsively watchable piece of reality TV.

Beth, who has an eating disorder, with two of her carers.
(Image: BBC)

I was diagnosed as bipolar five years ago. Before that, since I was 30, life had see sawed between 6 months feeling hyper – getting up at 3am to start work, with a day’s graft done by the time most other people were stumbling out of the bedroom – and six months horribly depressed, when I’d stay in bed for days and hardly eat anything. Because my symptoms weren’t extreme (I never ran down the road naked believing I was Jesus), my bipolar disorder was hard to diagnose. Now, thanks to the right medication – at last – I’ve had a very stable four years, I’m aware now when things go awry and I do still have some bad days. In the past, however, when my depression got really out of hand, I’d voluntarily put myself in secure mental 
health hospitals.
Filmed over a year in Manchester’s McGuinnes Unit, Don’t Call Me Crazy completely nails the atmosphere of being a mental patient. The lack of privacy, the boredom – nearly everyone smoked in the places I was in, although none of the teenagers in McGuinness appear to – and the sadness tempered with hope and humour. Don’t Call Me Crazy’s non judgemental lens is to be applauded, offering viewers a privileged insight into what unhappy, ill people go through.
The second programme centred on three girls. Kristal (14), who for six years has been seeing people and animals who aren’t there. At the last count, there were 75. Jill (16) suffers from depression and mood swings. She once escaped from the unit by smashing open a locked door and, like a lot of the patients in McGuinness, self harms. Like Jill, Beth (17) was in the first episode. Outwardly a funny, bubbly, pretty girl from a loving home, one day a voice appeared in her head that told her she was fat (she isn’t) and she stopped eating. She’s been in the unit for three months and because her appetite hasn’t improved, she’s now been Sectioned.
Forget The Voice, The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent’s nauseating voyeurism, this is what ‘reality’ television should be for: breaking down ignorance and prejudice through a sometimes painfully honest look into regular people’s lives. Don’t Call Me Crazy features some unforgettable, searing moments of real life – the brave anguish of Kristal’s adopted parents as they try to understand her delusions; Jill’s despair when she’s told she’s not well enough to go home for Christmas; Beth standing alone at the end of a corridor, blank faced, at the news that her tribunal has rejected her request to resume home visits. At the other end of the corridor, Jill is happily squealing, jumping around and hugging people as she’s about to be taken off her Section. One emotional extreme to the other: just a normal day on a mental 
health ward.   
I can’t say enough in praise of the understanding and care that the staff of these units offer, and the documentary rightly celebrates these unsung heroes of mental health treatment. They have to deal with everything from patients singing them a special song, to sitting patiently for twenty minutes encouraging an anorexia sufferer to take one sip from a nutrition drink. It’s not a job I could do, even though I’d like to think
I could.
I wasn’t diagnosed as mentally ill when I was a teenager, but looking back I’m sure that’s when things started to get a bit screwed up. Today’s young people are extremely fortunate to have special units like McGuinness, where potentially life damaging illnesses can be dealt with early in life. By the end of Monday night’s film, Jill was improving as she rebuilt her relationship with her mum and Kristal was discharged, as the medical team had decided that her fantasy world wasn’t a result of psychosis. Beth, however, was still on her Section.
Please support the I’m Not Mad season by watching the last Don’t Call Me Crazy next Monday. You’ll be educated, informed and enlightened.

1 comment:

  1. It was good to read this. I tried to watch it but couldn't get beyond the titles because the experience with my son is still too raw. And my reaction was raw. I may give it another try...