As I’m sure most of you already know, BBC Three recently kicked off their “It’s a Mad World” season with the three part documentary “Don’t Call Me Crazy”. This short series was filmed over the course of a year and explored the lives of inpatients at the McGuinness Unit, a teenage mental health unit, in Manchester. The McGuinness Unit had 15 beds and was a service for 13-18 year olds. Throughout the series many topics were explored, such as: OCD, Eating Disorders, Depression etc. I found myself drawn to this and, although a little skeptical, watched the first episode with curiosity.
I was not disappointed. “Don’t Call Me Crazy” gave a unique insight into mental illness, and how it can affect younger people in society. It opened my eyes to mental illnesses that I knew very little about, such as OCD, and followed individuals on their journeys to getting discharged from the ward. It explored some sensitive areas, such as self-harm, which the majority of the patients on the ward had experience with. It also showed that the patients understood the stigma surrounding mental illness, and found a sort of safe haven on the ward, as nobody was there to judge them.
“The stigma around mental health is terrible, the words ‘mental health’ does not mean ‘crazy’, one in four people suffer from a mental health illness, that means somebody in your family, your next door neighbour or even a best friend could be suffering. It is important that they seek help as many people can lose their lives through mental illnesses; I know I nearly did, and this is why I want to spread the awareness and stop this disease from damaging any more people. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness… it’s not a laughing joke now is it? Just because somebody isn’t walking around with a cast on their leg, doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering. Mental illnesses are far more complex and severe than just a broken leg. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.”
– Beth, Inpatient at the McGuinness Unit
One of the patients whose journey was followed closely was Beth, who had suffered from Depression and an Eating Disorder since the age of 14. Initially looking at her, and her bright and bubbly personality, you wouldn’t see anything out of order. It was only once the programme delved deeper that the extent of her illness became apparent. Refusing to eat for days at a time, or even set foot on a pair of scales, Beth was eventually Sectioned under the Mental Health Act, something she had believed would never happen. Staff on the ward began an eating program with her, where she would be constantly accompanied and watched by a member of staff at meal times. From the few clips they show of Beth trying to tackle food, you can see the clear distress she suffers, even at the thought of a tiny piece of carrot. Through the meal plan, Beth was eventually able to build up the amount she ate, bit by bit. However, at stages, she would feel so guilty about this she would punish herself by self-harming. Towards the end of her 6 month stay at the unit, we see Beth recover enough to be able to return to competitive dancing, something she had to give up due to her Eating Disorder, and her section finally lifted. It’s uplifting to see Beth achieve her goal of being well enough to finally get discharged and return home to her family, a goal shared by all the residents on the ward.
Whilst Beth was one of the main patients whose stories we experienced throughout the series, due to the length of her stay, we also got to meet patients with a much shorter stay on the ward. One of these patients was Emma, who suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). We saw clips of her distress, particularly after one evening where the unit staff had done a routine check of her room to make sure she didn’t have anything she could potentially self-harm with. We saw her evident distress as they moved all the stuff she had spent hours painstakingly arranging, in the full believe that if she didn’t then something bad would happen to her mum. Even though Emma was only on the ward for a few weeks, eventually being discharged and able to go home with her family, we were still able to follow her journey and see the improvement in her life as she was able to get better and manage her OCD.
During the third and final episode of the series, the focus turns to two teenage boys who arrive on the ward, both are hearing voices, suffering from depression and feeling suicidal. We are shown the difference in numbers between the boys and girls on the ward. Whilst there are 11 beds in the girls’ corridor, there are only 4 in the boys’. One of the boys, George, had begun suffering from depression when he moved roughly 200 miles away from his family to attend boarding school on a rugby scholarship. Not able to cope with the homesickness and distance from his family, his depression got worse until he attempted to complete suicide. Arriving on the ward, George was in turmoil over his future with rugby, a career he dreamed of, but one the voices in his head were telling him to give up on. After spending several weeks on the ward, George makes the decision to move to a school closer to home, and is transferred to a different unit. Matty, the other young boy who arrives on the ward, has been hearing voices for years telling him that someone would kill him once he turned 18. The roughly 50 voices he hears, also tell him he should complete suicide before his 18th birthday, to stop this from happening. Arriving on the ward weeks from this daunting date, staff not only have try and treat him, but also need to find him a place on an adult ward, for the day he turns 18. We last see Matty a bundle of nerves on the eve of his 18th birthday, and it is discovered the following morning that staff were able to find him a place on an adult ward, and have him transferred.
We also got to hear from some of the staff that work on the ward, and their experience of working with the teenagers. We see the bond the teenagers can form with their doctors and nurses, as they grow to trust them throughout their stay on the ward. Pete Croft, a mental health nurse at the McGuinness Unit, originally began his career as a policeman for the Greater Manchester Police, and believes that there are many aspects of that job he has been able to transfer, such as how to deal with confrontation.
“Being a mental Health Nurse isn’t a job you get into for the money, you do it so you can help people get better, and seeing the progress young people make from when they come in to when they leave, whatever length of time that is, makes you proud of what you’ve done to help them. The job can be stressful, but at the same time the reward of helping someone who hasn’t really begun their life and getting them back on track is what we’re all here for.”
– Pete Croft, Mental Health Nurse at the McGuinness Unit
George’s case in particular struck me, as this could relate to a lot of people heading to College or University. A lot of these young people are moving away from home for the first time, to a new city with new surroundings, or even a whole new country. It’s easy to see how students could easily end up in the same position as George if they don’t know where to turn to for help, or are too afraid to come forward. It is one of my believes that every College or University should have a well-advertised counselling service for its students, so they know where to turn to for help, and don’t end up feeling completely alone in their struggle.
I saw the entire series as completely eye-opening. Whilst I already knew a lot about depression and self-harming, as well as a little about OCD, seeing people who had practically hit rock bottom, and were coming back from it, was very educational. I feel it could be useful in tackling the stigma around mental illness, as you can see from the series that, mental illnesses aside, these are just ordinary teenagers trying to get on with their lives. These were just a few select patients whose stories were followed through the series. Watching them, you will be able to get your own insight as well as see the patients I haven’t been able to mention as I was worried about this blog being a bit on the long side!
Below I’ve put a link to the homepage for “Don’t Call Me Crazy”, as well as some links they already have on their page.
“Don’t Call Me Crazy” homepage:
Their information and support page, which also has many useful links to either more information or support services: