MedFest unmasks bleak truths on mental health

Manchester’s medical film festival, Medfest, at the Club Academy in the University of Manchester Students’ Union last night did a little more than screen a series of short films exploring mental illness. Having been themed ‘Global Health and Civilizations’, the event did exactly what it said on the tin – ‘delivered powerful viewing material, a scintillating discussion, cultural enrichment, delectable free food’, lots of free food.

Chaired by Psychiatrist Consultant and MedFest’s organiser Laura Nagle, the event’s short films provoked intriguing insights into film and mental health via a panelled discussion that included intellectual speakers from the medical and film industry.

Divided into three parts; journeys, culture & religion and recovery, the films varied in how they represented mental health perceptions across different societies, but all revealed an alarming thread running through them – the unbalanced and unfair treatment that mental health patients receive.

The intention of the event was to “raise awareness, encourage interest and recruitment in psychiatry”, Laura told TNT on the night.

In one of the films shown, ‘Balan’s Story’, the mental brunt of displacement faced by asylum seekers in foreign countries is made apparent. Commenting on the film, Dr. Mukesh Kapila, CBE, Professor of Global Health and Humanitarian Affairs at University of Manchester said, he is appalled at the impression the media gives that “refugees are seeking things they don’t deserve. The standard of care they receive is closer to a prison than the general population. Our treatment of asylum seekers is shameful”.

The comment came after the film showed an asylum seeker in Australia concluding, “Our bodies are starting to wilt” as the government forbids them to work, which adds to their trauma, the film revealed.

Perhaps the closest explanation as to why bridging the gap between mental and physical illness perceptions is difficult is that, globally, people think mental illness is outside medical treatment, the event showed.

In the ‘culture & religion’ segment, a film showed the Aokigahara forest in Japan, said to be the world’s number one suicide hotspot and now known as ‘Suicide forest’. The most poignant part of the film was the string tied on trees by indecisive sufferers on their way to commit suicide. “Most of them [suicides] here are a result of how society has treated them”, the narrator in ‘Japanese Suicide Forest’ said.

Psychiatry student, Ralph Holmes told TNT that “Unfortunately, the event seems to be targeting the medical professionals and students but actually this is very much part of a general movement; to push this [awareness of mental health] through society]”.


TNT News Yasin Chinembiri


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