4 Goes Mad comes at a good time. The evaluation of the first phase of Time to Change's campaign to break the stigma of mental health has found small but significant improvements in attitudes and experience of mental illness. There has also been a drop in the proportion of service users experiencing discrimination on a daily basis. Channel 4's 4 Goes Mad season this week can only further improve this. It kicked off tonight with Ruby Wax's Mad Confessions.
Ruby has fought her own battle with clinical depression since her teens, which became public knowledge after getting involved in a Time To Change poster campaign. The documentary asked whether those suffering with a mental illness should be open about it, too. The film had snippets of Ruby performing her stand-up show, in which she talks about her life-long battle with depression. She also revisits The Priory, where she had treatment (unfortunately this has caused a bit of a stir on Twitter).
She meets up with the doctor she had during her time there, and he showed her her old medical records, dating back to 1993. He talked about how he had worked with those with locked-in syndrome, who could only communicate with the blink of an eye. "They loved life," he said, and compared this with looking at Ruby when she was his patient, who clearly was hating it. "Physical pain is nothing compared to five minutes with real depression," he said.
Ruby also goes to the House of Commons to discover the current state of the law and meets the MPs who spoke out about their own mental health problems during the recent parliamentary mental health debate. She discovered that current law states that you can't be a company director, MP or school govenor if you've been sectioned under the mental health act for six months. "Prejudice is written into the law", she says.
The film also follows three successful businesspeople as they tell their colleagues about their own mental health problems. Ruby reveals the shocking statistic that one in 5 people lose their jobs when their boss finds out they have mental health problems. The first of the three is Charlotte Fantelli, a sucessful entrepreneur who runs Mental Healthy. She suffers with OCD, and has to wash her hands 25 times a day. "I was agoraphobic for a few months and I didn't go out at all. I was having 20 to 30 panic attacks a day." Charlotte explains that she suffered abuse as a child, and just wants to feel clean. "I hope they're good to her because she cant take any more pain," Ruby said.
Charlotte also works as a part-time marketing executive, and wants to tell her colleagues about her condition. "I don't want their pity, I don't want them to change how they see me," she said. She explains that her colleagues don't know that she finds it hard to shake hands with people. Aside from one slightly annoying 'are your tins of beans all lined up?' question, her colleagues take it really well.
Next was chef and restaurant owner, Johnnie Mountain. He is reluctant to talk to his GP about his problems, but recently had a very public breakdown on TV show Great British Menu. "I'm a clever fella, but I thought about suicide and how I'd do it...such a stupid thing," he said. He now wants to tell his staff so that they will put more trust in him and open up to him. "It's like opening up a wound. To me its not a weakness, it's a strength'. He was then filmed gathering his colleagues and explaining how he contemplated suicide.
Finally, design engineer, Derek Muir, wants to tell his colleagues about how he has suffered depression for the last 18 months. "I thought that this is how everyone else felt and I just couldn't deal with it", he said. He took four weeks off work but didn't tell his colleagues the real reason. Ruby showed her concern as he was the family's only breadwinner. Ruby performed her stand-up in front of Derek's colleagues, asking "how come every organ in the body can get sick and we get sympathy, except the brain?". She then handed the microphone over to Derek, who he tells his colleagues the truth. "Talking about it is the key to getting over it," he says. Thankfully it went down well.
The film was a good kick-off to 4 Goes Mad. It could have looked at more issues concerning mental health, especially with a more diverse range of people. But for a prime time slot on Channel 4, we can't complain.
Near the end of the film, Ruby's daughter is interviewed and she says: "I think my mum wishes she wasn't mentally ill, but I say 'it makes you who you are'". I think that this understated, off-the-cuff comment sums up the film. Strength and courage is a running theme throughout, and without her depression, Ruby wouldn't have made this film and put mental health on the prime time, Channel 4 radar.