Mental distress and the criminal justice system film series
Posted on 04, October 2019
Mental distress and the criminal justice system: Learning from lived experience
For World Mental Health Day 2019 Together for Mental Wellbeing are sharing our film on mental distress and the criminal justice system. The film shows the varied and multifaceted reasons people can become involved with the criminal justice system and what we can learn from their lived experiences. The people featured in the film have all used or volunteered with services provided by Together and they were involved in all stages of the production of the film. It was produced by Flexible Films and the music was provided by Eve McDougall, who also starred in it, with her band, the Invisibles. The participants in the film are living with a variety different mental health conditions ranging from depression and drug and alcohol dependencies to trauma, and experiences of psychosis. They relay their stories in an open and candid way on how they came into contact with the criminal justice system and the impact that had on them.
Working alongside service users
Service user leadership and involvement is the core principle of Together. It informs all that we do and we believe in empowering people to lead their own care and support. This was also the case in the development of these films as all of them were co-produced by the people that featured in them to ensure they were fully representative of their stories. The illustrations that were used were provided by Jolie Goodman and the films were produced by Flexible Films who worked alongside service users throughout the process and Peer Supporters. Peer support takes place when people with experience of mental distress support each other towards better wellbeing. In commenting on the process of making the films, Brandon, who featured commented “I felt part of a team, it was good to make edit decisions together”. While Abbey, who also starred in the films, added that “the illustrator understood my story but also added her own vision and the result felt really meaningful”.
Recognising mental health needs
We have long stated that too many people pass through the criminal justice system without their mental health needs being recognised or understood. That is one of the primary reasons Together’s Criminal Justice Service exists. Often this lack of understanding can be a contributing factor to the person ending up in criminal justice settings and once they are there some of our service users have described assumptions that were made about them by professionals. These are recurring themes that appear in the main film and also in some individual stories we’ll share here too.
The film participants have backgrounds and circumstances that are highly complex and characterised by multiple disadvantage which is a large contributory factor in them being arrested or seen by health and social services. Once coming into contact with those services our participants suggested more training around mental health for police could help their understanding of how to respond to someone experiencing mental distress and that knowledge of the individual’s history should be shared. It was also suggested that care planning after release wasn’t in place in some cases and that an overly clinical approach by health services can be traumatic and contribute further to mental distress. Click below to watch the main film:
Understanding the person and their mental health: Abbey’s story
Abbey lives with a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder and her story of how she came into contact with the criminal justice system shows how with more understanding of her experiences police may have been able to see how distressing being placed in a police cell could be. Abbey could also have been better supported initially by allowing her support network to be involved but her parents were advised not to come to the police station. She also describes feeling discriminated against as a young Asian woman with a disability and the lasting effect of having a criminal record. There is a lot to learn from her account in terms of how she could have been better supported. Click below to watch Abbey’s story:
Confounding assumptions: Donna’s story
Donna became involved with criminal justice services because she struggled for a long time with an addiction to heroin. She also lives with a diagnosis of depression and had previously had suicidal thoughts after feeling that she couldn’t cope but has now turned her life around and was commended by her judge for the changes she has made in her life. After working together with Together’s York Pathways service, and another charity to help with debts, she has taken control of her own recovery and is living independently. Donna describes how she felt criminal justice professionals made assumptions about her because of her addiction and that they thought “people on heroin are all the same”. Her story shows how there can be complex reasons behind why someone has an addiction and that the ability of someone to take control of their own recovery and make changes in their life should never be underestimated. Click below to view Donna’s story: