“I am who I am” – Duchy Health Charity film puts the “story” into mental healthcare

Posted on October 15 2014

One of the UK’s top film-makers has created a moving and thought-provoking “short” which aims to put the personal narrative back into the care of  thousands of people who suffer from mental health problems.

In Ben Giles’ film “I am who I am” experts in the field and patients themselves explain how personal stories and being given the time to be heard are the key to unlocking the best course of care for individual people.

Anthony Hambly, a retired GP and with past experience in commissioning mental health services, speaks from personal experience of the trauma to a family of living with mental illness – his own brother suffered from acute schizophrenia.

As he puts it in the film, “Unless you know the background of somebody you don’t know where they are travelling from and travelling to. People have complex lives and the fact is that their background does very much affect them going forward.”

“I am who I am” was commissioned by Cornwall’s Duchy Health Charity as a focus for its seminar on Mental Health in Transition – which also looked at a ground-breaking, cross-sector project in North Cornwall which it is hoped – funding provided – will roll out across the county and the country at large.

The charity supports projects which enhance the health and wellbeing of the people of Cornwall and opening the seminar chairman, Dr John Hyslop, highlighted the problem that mental healthcare has, over the years, become the “poor relation” of medicine with communication between the experts becoming less and less “joined-up”.

Above: Dr Hambly acted as an adviser to the charity for ‘I am who I am’ and is seen here making the film (left) with Director, Ben Giles.

One solution, piloted at the Port Issac surgery, has been to draw together, on a monthly basis, experts including GPs, psychiatrists, community psychiatric nurses (CPNs), the charitable sector and also people who themselves have had mental health problems to discuss individual cases and clearly identify each patient’s care needs and who should take a lead in that care.

This model places the patient and their individual story firmly at the centre of the discussions and as the film emphasises, mental illnesses take many forms and understanding each person’s background is crucial to helping them cope with their lives.

A woman who has been haunted throughout her adult life by abuse during childhood says, “For the first time, now, I feel a connection with my CPN, my consultant and finally a GP that will listen – and that is what stops me from going that little step over the edge at the moment.”

Another interviewee, a man who suffered a terrible mental break-down and tried to commit suicide in his early twenties, explains how a new GP has transformed his life.

“If I wanted to talk she always found time to listen – it wasn’t just ‘in you come, here’s a prescription for some more anti-depressants, here’s a sick note for another six weeks, see you when it runs out.’ It’s thanks to her that I’ve taken control of my illness – it doesn’t control me so much.”

Ben Charnaud, senior Consultant Psychiatrist, describes the changes he’s seen through forty years working in the field of mental health and alludes to potential funding challenges faced with the government’s Health and Social Care Bill. He sums up his work with individual patients in Cornwall as a privilege.

“Working with people’s stories and working with their narrative is a trust thing and we have to earn people’s trust to do it. I think it’s very important that when we listen to somebody’s story we hold that story, we bear witness to who they are and what has happened to them.”