New video series on experiences of mental distress and the criminal justice system

In a new video series people who have used or volunteered with services provided by Together for Mental Wellbeing (Together) share their experiences of the criminal justice system when living with mental distress. The service users that are featured in the videos were involved in all stages of the production of the series. The main film from the project was premiered at an event at Rich Mix in Shoreditch in London on Thursday 27 June 2019. People who starred in the videos hosted and delivered presentations during the event, and were heavily involved in planning the day. The event was attended by people with lived experience who starred in the film, their friends, family, police, probation, NHS colleagues and Criminal Justice and mental health third sector agencies and from across the country.

The attendees settle in at the premiere of the film


The premiere was an emotional experience as the participants relayed the positive affect of video-making process with Flexible Films. Attendees at the event were also able to take in an incredibly powerful performance by actor Sarah J Warren of a monologue from the book and play ‘A Wicked Fist’. That was written by Eve McDougall who starred in and provided music for the films and performed on the day with her band, the Invisibles. People in the films have a range of experiences of mental distress and difficulties from depression and drug and alcohol dependencies, 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. As well as the full film that was premiered at Rich Mix, Together will release a selection of individual films where one individual tells their story plus a film on the making of the videos.

View the mental distress and the criminal justice system video

Recognising mental health needs

Together have long stated that too many people pass through the criminal justice system without their mental health needs being recognised which is one of the primary reasons our service exists and is a recurring theme that appears in the films. The 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 social services. Once coming into contact with those services our participants suggested more training around mental health for police could be provided 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 social services can be traumatic and contribute further to mental distress.

Working alongside service users

The guiding principle of Together is focussed on service user involvement to inform 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 videos were produced by Flexible Films who worked alongside service users and Peer Supporters throughout the process while illustrations that were used were provided by Jolie Goodman. 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 videos, added that “the illustrator understood my story but also added her own vision and the result felt really meaningful”.

The benefits of lived experience

Peer supports Gemma, Sue and Christine in video editing

Peer supports Gemma, Sue and Christine in video editing

Together’s CEO, Linda Bryant explains here why the peer support provided is so important: Some of the people featured in this video series also volunteer as Peer Supporters with Together, drawing on their own lived experiences of mental distress and the criminal justice system to provide peer support to people using Together services. In doing so they provide a hugely valuable resource in lived experience which we know is vital to our service users as it means they can speak to someone who knows what they may be going through.

“As a professional that’s worked with people in the criminal justice system I can be compassionate and try and empathise with someone’s situation. I’ve not been in a police station or been arrested or gone through a court hearing or been on probation myself though, so I can’t feel what those experiences are like for people. So peer supporters, who’ve had some of those experiences can be non-judgemental and can help the person understand what choices they might be able to make, when they feel there are no choices, as they’re going through a legal process. Peer supporters can gain a lot confidence as well as the feeling of giving back to somebody especially if it’s through their own experience and somewhere along the line it overlaps with what another person is going through.”