The topic of mental health has become more and more prevalent over the last few years. Up until fairly recently the mention of mental health or any associated problems meant to me that someone was seriously ill and needed either medication or extensive therapy to get by. I have come to realise though that mental health issues encompass a lot more and will I’m sure touch everyone at various points in their lifetime.
Recently my gran was saying to me that she is shocked to see so many people, particularly men, opening up about their feelings much more readily these days. The difference in attitude towards talking about feelings does seem in part to be a generational thing, in that in the past it was seen as almost a sign of weakness. My granddad was stationed in Singapore during the second World War and was taken prisoner by the Japanese army during when they invaded the city. He then spent the next couple of years being held captive and being forced to help build the Burma railway. From what has been documented about the Burmese POWs and from the scant details that my granddad passed on to my mum, it’s apparent that the treatment they received was horrendous, like hell on earth. He was one of the lucky ones that survived but my mum and gran have told me in the past that on his release and return to the UK he was very much expected to just get on with things. On him leaving the army a few years later he was given a new job and little more than a handshake to send him on his way, no counselling or therapy to try and help him come to terms with the trauma and suffering that he had been through. He, as well as my mum and gran, felt the impact throughout his life during which time he experienced a nervous breakdown as well as regular night terrors. I do wonder actually if my gran wishes he had access to the many methods of help or therapy available now.
Contrast that with the present day where there’s a strong focus on counselling particularly for people that have had traumatic experiences, amid a realisation that acknowledging things that the mind has locked away and talking them through can have a positive effect. Whereas in days gone by people were just told to get on with things, there seems to be a shift towards understanding that different pressures in life – work, family, money, grief, etc – can have a huge impact on a person’s mental wellbeing and general outlook on life.
I’m sure it’s something we can all relate to – even minor concerns, anger, bitterness, etc. that are left unchecked can fester away in our minds to gradually intensify and seep into our mood or temperament.
My own personal experiences have very much changed my perspective on mental health. A close friend of mine died a few years ago while sea kayaking – the grief has been more pronounced than I have ever experienced in my life and has been a real struggle at times to get through. The way an emotion can take over your mind, your body and to a point your life is incredible. I found myself feeling lost, angry, hopeless, conflicted and the person that I would have wanted to talk through my feelings with was ironically the person who now wasn’t there. I’ve always been a bit of an open book, always willing to talk about my feelings (perhaps too willing sometimes!) yet I still found it nigh on impossible to put into words how I was feeling or figuring out what I needed to do to get through it. It has only been through discussing things with friends and family and seeking advice or guidance from other means that I began to feel more like myself. I realised during the whole process though that there had been many things that I had put to the back of my mind from previous years. Things that I had not fully dealt with or tackled, instead just leaving them to slowly gain traction subconsciously.
Along with a greater understanding of mental health issues thankfully has come more methods to manage them or keep them in check. One approach I’ve found helpful is mindfulness, the practice of trying to at least for a few minutes a day have a clear mind. The analogy that I found really vivid is that in all our minds there is blue sky, that feeling of calm and still. All the thoughts that come into our minds over the course of the day, even the most mundane – what time we need to leave the house, what we’re having for tea, what we need to do before tomorrow – can be thought of as clouds obscuring this blue sky. If we acknowledge that the blue sky is there and, given the chance to calm our minds, we may get a glimpse of it, we can perhaps be a bit more in control of our thoughts or worries rather than them controlling us all the time.
On Friday 11th October we will be holding a special free showing of the wonderfully quirky New Zealand film Hunt for the Wilderpeople starring everyone’s favourite Kiwi Sam Neill. We wanted to put on an event that could offer a social and interactive opportunity for looking at or discussing mental health issues but also to show a film that would be a fun, entertaining and uplifting experience. To that end, there will be some short films screened in the library beforehand along with some food and drink, who doesn’t love free food?!
Our main feature film’s director, Taika Waititi, has shot to international fame in recent years due to his work on Thor: Ragnarok and its planned sequel. Prior to Marvel signing him up though, and probably the reason they did, were his earlier films including themes of mental scars based on previous, sometimes traumatic, experiences and the different ways people deal with these. In Eagle vs Shark, one of the main characters leaves home at an early age as his way of dealing with his older brother’s death and his father’s refusal to come to terms with it. In Boy, the death of a young pair of brothers’ mother leads again to one person, in this case the boys’ father, running away to try and escape it while leaving the boys to come to terms with it by themselves. In Hunt for the Wilderpeople, we find a misled youth joining new foster parents, all with their own demons. The film follows the young boy and his new his foster father in how they cope, or fail to cope, with their issues and the long hard journey to facing up to their feelings and finding common ground.
In general, one of the main aims of the MCC is to bring people together in the community and to offer a warm and welcoming environment where anyone can come, feel comfortable, socialise and enjoy some entertainment/escapism as required! Things can get a bit much for all of us at times, hopefully the MCC showings can offer one method of taking a break and slowing things down a bit.
As ever, if you have any suggestions or feedback for the group then please either contact us via our Facebook page, by email at MearnsCommunityCinema@gmail.com or by chatting to one of us at one of the screenings. Hope to see you soon.
Jamie, on behalf of the MCC