Despite their reputation for low-rent programming, I find that BBC3 actually lead the way when it comes to documentaries dealing with the struggle of today’s youth. The recent Growing up Poor is a prime example, as it told the story of today’s impoverished teenagers from their own point-of-view. Don’t Call me Crazy follows a similar pattern as we hear from several of the youngsters who are patients at Manchester’s McGuinness Unit. The unit takes in patients who have a number of issues from eating disorders to OCD, while some are in the unit because they have been sectioned by the Mental Health Act.
One of the three subjects we meet in this first episode is Bethany, a new patient who is suffering from a serious eating disorder. Though Beth seems to be having fun with her fellow patients a tour round her room reveals a very different story. As Beth shows us the photos on her wall, she tells us that all she sees is the fat on her arms. The staff at the unit attempt to get Beth to focus on what she will be able to achieve once she leaves the unit, including resuming her gymnastics training. The programme shows support worker Matt accompanying Beth to her old dancehall in order for her to remember what her old life was like. But it seems that the staff’s attempts to get Beth to focus on getting better aren’t doing any good. Instead, Beth refuses to come down to the dining room and starts a diary documenting the fact that she isn’t eating. As the staff continue to get agitated about Beth’s calorie intake they put her on the rainbow programme, which involves a member of staff sitting with her while she eats her meal. Beth is visibly distressed by this news as the thought of putting any more weight on frightens her drastically. To burn off any calories she does consume, Beth starts frantically walking up and down the unit’s corridors. In one of the most harrowing scenes of the film, Matt attempts to get Beth to drink a calorie shake with it taking over twenty minutes for Beth to take just one sip of the liquid. Eventually the staff at the unit have no choice but to section Beth under the Mental Health Act.
The documentary also introduces us to 15 year old Emma, who has been in the McGuinness Unit for two weeks. Emma suffers from OCD, a condition she feels that a lot of people don’t understand. Emma tells us about hearing a voice who tells her to do something or something bad will happen. Emma is presented as a reserved young lady who doesn’t join in during the group therapy sessions and is worried about going outside. Her OCD later flares up following a search of her room, as the staff members carrying out the search disturb the organised state of her possessions. I personally felt that the staff weren’t as sensitive as they should’ve been when going through Emma’s things, telling her that they had to do conduct the search. After they’d left, Emma noted that they hadn’t put her CDs back in the right order and, because of this, she felt something horrible would happen to her mum. Emma’s lowest moment came when she was found with shoelaces tied around her neck and therefore wasn’t granted the school leave she requested. Thankfully, Emma’s condition began to improve during her stay in the unit and ultimately she was released. Emma’s story shows that some youngsters can benefit greatly from the unit and can be released feeling a lot better about themselves.
Unfortunately this isn’t always the case as we see through the story of Gill. 16 year old Gill has tried to commit suicide several times and assaulted fourteen staff members since she has been at the unit. Towards the beginning of the programme we see Gill being released, but she is soon back after taking another large overdose. Gill tells us about not seeing a way for her to live her life and she felt she would be better off dead. Despite Gill spending a lot of her time on the unit’s acute corridor, she is occasionally able to socialise with the other girls on the ward. But this leads to Gill and another girl escaping the unit which in turn means that the team now have to hunt down two lost patients. While the other girl is found after a few hours, Gill is missing for a long time until the team hear she has been taken into hospital once again. To me, Gill represents the vicious cycle of mental illness as her disorder prevents her from truly living her life.
The mood of Don’t Call me Crazy is perfectly summed up by Support Worker Claire who tells us that ‘going through adolescence is hard enough without a few extra problems on top.’ Indeed this programme gives us a real look at what life is like for girls such as Emma, Beth and Gill all of whom need help in some way. The programme is incredibly shot, with cameras closing in on the frantic arms of several patients, as they worry about their next meal or how their CDs are arranged. I also feel that the programme never tries to sensationalise mental illness, but instead tries to get young people to understand what suffering from these disorders is really like. Some of the scenes, especially those involving Beth’s problems with her food, are a hard watch, but at the same time are there to illustrate the burdens of living with mental illness. Thankfully, the programme isn’t all doom and gloom as plenty of humour is provided by the larger-than-life staff members. My favourite staff member was probably Staff Nurse Pete Burns, who employed a fairly light attitude to all the heavy situations that were presented to him. I also enjoyed the fact that the directors tried to get as many scenes of the girls laughing as they could as this perfectly counterbalanced the programme’s more harrowing moments.
Overall Don’t Call me Crazy is another must-watch documentary from BBC3 which shows the realities of young people dealing with mental illness. Emma, Beth and Gill were all seemingly normal girls but the programme slowly made you realise how their illness had made them think less of themselves. I felt that the documentary presented the perfect balance of light and shade, while at the same time never shying away from the serious subject matter at hand. By the end of the programme I was really rooting for all three girls to get better, and to me that’s a sign that I’ve really connected with a documentary series.
Did you enjoy Don’t Call me Crazy? Do you think it’s another triumph for BBC3? Leave Your Comments Below.