Only Connect – using different media to tell stories

I’m not unique in having experience of a range of media that I’ve used professionally and personally to communicate my story, those of others, and corporate information. Writing for trade press, websites, newsletters, blogs; and film making for online, corporate communications and broadcast have all come within my remit at various points in my career. Differences between them are multiple and each project is unique. The film making that I did for festivals and for my own personal satisfaction was very different from corporate communications, but the experience of working to a brief, either my own or that of the client, was informative in each instance.

I am lucky in that I’ve had the opportunity to dabble in a variety of media, and also to an extent disadvantaged. I don’t have a specialism, and am a proverbial jack of all trades. In terms of my career, I might have been wiser to specialise and go deeper in one medium. In terms of my own personal satisfaction, now I have reached a point where I can reflect, I feel lucky that my specialism is one to which I feel personally as well as professionally attached. It is my special subject, mental health and media, where I feel I have most expertise.

In that respect, I’d like to use this space to reflect on the differences in experience which the different media create for the subject/story teller, who may or may not have a mental health diagnosis. There are important differences, as well as similarities between the experiences of contributing to these art forms.

In terms of pouring out emotion, it is possible that writing is the most immediate. In the moment of writing you are least accountable, least self censoring, and most able to be raw in the privacy of the page. The therapeutic aspects of diarising have been long documented, and I am certainly an avid diariser. I now find that if I spend too many days without checking in with my long form handwritten diary, my thoughts become disordered and impenetrable. Making my way through them becomes labyrinthine. When I keep up my diary, then when I turn to the page at other points during the day, my writing flows easily. When I leave it behind, I can’t order my sentences.

But that goes to show that writing is not a single strand art form any more than film making is. But I think with writing we start at one end – the diary, and move out to the poem, the novel, the article, the commissioned piece, the corporate comms with the client as the end audience. Whereas with film we tend to start at the corporate end. Budgets, number of people involved, time consumed, and effort expended with film is exponentially larger, and historically we have viewed the act of picking up a camera as an expensive one both in terms of money and time. It means that our relationship to film is a more formal one, we don’t tend to view it as a diarising medium.

All this however is changing for the You Tube generation. My young son is my personal lightning conductor when it comes to predicting the future of television, filmed art, and media consumption. An avid watcher of You Tube, he occasionally dabbles with Netflix. I think I can count on one hand the number of times he has watched scheduled TV programmes. He does watch film when it’s on TV, but only if his parents are. His favourite things to watch on You Tube are screencast videos with people inset into the screen playing computer games. He sometimes gets frustrated that they aren’t playing the game as well as they ought, and he will then touch the TV screen in an attempt to get the gamers up to speed with how he would do it. I have to explain to him that the TV isn’t touch sensitive, and that there is a difference between video and interactive games. It leads me to believe that in the future there will be no such distinction.

For the You Tube generation, the camera is the first point of call, not the last, for diarisation. It is the father confessor, the mirror of the mind. It is adult dinosaurs who yet have to catch up with this. The camera is now everywhere, and even in mental health units – even in forensic mental health units – it is getting harder and harder to deny people access to their phones and by extension their cameras. There was a case last year reported by Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust in the report Social Media in Mental Health Practice of the blogger @chaosandcontrol who tried to blog from within a mental health unit, and when the NHS Trust tried to prevent her from doing so, she lodged an official complaint and got back not only access to her phone, but acknowledgement of her right to blog as her method of managing her mental health. I believe that diarisation is a key component of good mental hygiene, and that within mental health units, whether on paper or on film, it ought to be encouraged. However, I have been on units where the reverse takes place, and people writing down their story are dismissed as having ‘writing syndrome’. I bet you anything there are blocked novelists out there who would love to have this diagnosis.

In mental health units now, under the Design in Mental Health Network’s Better Bedroom initiative, the specifications for new bedrooms recommend that trusts commission large iPad style screens with touch screens for regulating light and heat, watching commissioned videos of relaxing natural scenes, making art, and conducting video calls. There is no limit on the apps that could be written for such a devise. We hope to get our mental health diarisation service, Mental Snapp, onto these apps. This will fulfil a dream I cooked up a long time half joking with David Crepaz-Keay, then of Mental Health Media, of a video diary room in every unit in the country. It is possible, it is within our grasp, it is just another medium of story telling which ought to be available to every mental health service user to facilitate their connection with themselves and with the world. And that is what ultimately all these mediums are for – only connect.

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