Former Dunedin resident Mary O’Hagan, speaking to the Otago Daily Times from New York recently before she appeared at a mental health conference, will appear in the three-minute documentary Madness Made Me.
Ms O’Hagan (56), now of Wellington, was born and raised in Winton and moved to Dunedin in 1976, aged 17, to study at the University of Otago.
In Dunedin, she experienced ‘‘extreme mental distress” and was in and out of ward 10 at Wakari Hospital’s psychiatric unit.
She lost count of the number of times she was admitted between 1979 and 1984.
The distress was a ‘‘fairly extreme response” to the problems of a teenager finding a place in the world, she said.
The medical staff treated her the best they could, but lacked the tools needed to help.
‘‘There is a lot of emphasis on diagnosis and medication, getting people on the right drugs . . . it wasn’t geared towards helping me cope with life in a way that I needed. Most of what I got was a pills and pillow service.”
More was needed than antipsychotic medication and a bed.
In hospital, she kept a journal and after becoming mentally stable lodged an Official Information Act request for her psychiatric files.
‘‘I was shocked the way I was written about.”
The hospital files detailed ‘‘deficits and problems” and differed dramatically from her journal’s entries.
The juxtaposition revealed how dominant language could affect the potential for recovery from mental distress, she said.
More practical assistance was needed to ensure patients could maintain work, study and personal relationships.
Overall, she was disappointed with a lack of change in the system since her first admission.
She used her ‘‘lived experiences” to develop workshops and create an ‘‘online toolkit” to make a difference to the way society and services responded to people with major mental distress.
Film-maker Nikki Castle (30) said she quickly raised $2000 from public donations to make the documentary. Once the amount was reached, the Government initiative Loading Docs would provide another $4000 for the documentary.
Ms Castle, of Auckland, said filming would begin on April 11 and 12 on the set of a Dunedin psychiatric ward created in Auckland.
She wanted to include archive footage of Dunedin in the 1980s in the production but it was too expensive, she said.
Dunedin would only appear in a ‘‘thought track” of Ms O’Hagan, she said.
She believed the project appealed to the public because mental health was a taboo subject.
‘‘The subjects we don’t want to talk about are the ones we are most curious about.”
The idea for the documentary was born from the experiences of her husband, Graham Panther, who co-wrote the documentary.
He also worked in the mental health industry which was how he met Ms O’Hagan.