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A unique look at mental health from SBS and Blackfella Films - HOW 'MAD' ARE YOU?

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HOW ‘MAD’ ARE YOU participants & Dr Steve Ellen
Image - SBS

New two-part SBS documentary series HOW ‘MAD’ ARE YOU? addresses mental illness in a way never seen before on Australian television.

Ten Australians, from all backgrounds and ages spend a week together. Five have a history of mental illness. Five do not.

All have agreed to take part in this daring study in the hope of breaking down stigma.

One of the ten has a lived experience of anorexia so severe that they feared drinking water would increase their weight. Another has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder - during periods of mania they’ve impulsively spent large amounts of money before then succumbing to weeks of deep depression.

The ten volunteer to take part in a series of specially designed tests and challenges overseen by clinical psychiatrist, Dr. Steve Ellen.

The tests are designed to highlight the symptoms and character traits which could indicate some of the most common psychiatric disorders affecting around four million Australians - clinical depression, social anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anorexia nervosa.

Could gambling at the roulette table reveal impulsive behaviour, which indicates a lived experience of bipolar disorder for one participant? A cutting edge ‘fixation test’ recording tiny unconscious movements of the eye, uncovers who in the group may have a history of anorexia nervosa. A task to copy a complex drawing could highlight obsessive planning and excessive attention to detail, possible symptoms of OCD.

Three leading mental health experts watch on closely. Professor Jayashri Kulkarni is the Director of Australia’s largest psychiatry research centre. Jan Macintire is senior psychiatric nurse in one of the country’s busiest emergency hospitals. Professor Tim Carey is a clinical psychologist working in Alice Springs. They are putting their reputations on the line as they face the daunting task of working out who in the group has been diagnosed with a mental illness and who has not.

As the experts ponder where the fine line between being ‘well’ and ‘mentally ill’ lies, the results are finally revealed, and the five participants with a history of mental illness share their inspiring personal stories. Questions are raised about the meaning of diagnosis, the stereotypes, stigma and social implications that come with the label of a diagnosis, and the value of seeing the person behind the diagnosis.

Marshall Heald, SBS Director of Content and Online, said:

“At the heart of SBS is a commitment to contribute to a more cohesive society. One in five Australians experience mental illness every year, and How ‘Mad’ Are You aims to start a conversation which will help break down stigma and challenge assumptions about what it means to have a mental illness.” 

National mental health charity SANE Australia has served in an advisory role in the making of HOW ‘MAD’ ARE YOU?. Jack Heath, SANE Australia CEO said:

“Over the past decade, we have made great advances in reducing stigma around depression and anxiety, but there is still a great deal of work to be done to help those living with more complex mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, severe and enduring mood disorders, OCD and PTSD.

“Documentaries like HOW ‘MAD’ ARE YOU? can help to open up important public discussion around mental illness stereotypes and stigma - conversations which are often ignored. Through sharing the experiences of people living with complex mental illness, we hope this series will increase awareness of symptoms, reduce stigma, encourage people to seek help for mental health concerns and reinforce hope amongst those living with the same diagnosis.”

HOW ‘MAD’ ARE YOU? is a Blackfella Films production for SBS, with principal production investment from SBS in association with Screen Australia.

Blackfella Films, producers for the series, said:

“Mental health impacts on every Australian and yet it is something that is too often ignored and misunderstood. This series is about all of us. We are proud and privileged to have collaborated with those who have a lived experience of mental illness, leading experts and SANE Australia, to shed light on this critical issue.”

Sally Caplan, Head of Production at Screen Australia, said:

“Producer Darren Dale and writer and series producer Jacob Hickey from Blackfella Films have a proven track record of delivering thought provoking social impact documentary series for SBS including Screen Australia funded titles Filthy Rich and Homeless and First Contact. I’m sure this new series will start an important national conversation about mental health, a subject that is too often ignored.”


HOW ‘MAD’ ARE YOU? airs over two weeks, starting Thursday 11 October, 8.30pm on SBS and SBS On Demand.


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