Being admitted to a psychiatric ward is by no means easy. You are in a strange place, in the acute stages of a mental health problem and it’s hard to see the light. A new documentary by Izzy Stokes looks at the experiences of young people who have been in an adolescent unit.
The film is mainly comprised of talking heads. Those who are interviewed are startlingly honest about what they went through. We don’t hear her voice, but somehow Stokes gets the most out of the people she speaks to.
A great deal of the film is unpleasant anecdotes. The subjects are remarkably candid, and their stories are raw and emotional. Shockingly, an interviewee says four people she met in hospital have killed themselves. A young man opens up about a good friend taking her own life, and on a particularly bleak note, a teenager says she feels as if some people’s situations are made worse by their time as inpatients.
The style of documentary making is simple but effective. The interviews are interspersed with things like one of the youngsters playing with her dog and a quirky sequence where someone messes about in front of the mirror. The piece is brilliantly put together. As the young people talk there are cutaway shots of things like family photos and one of the contributors stepping into his shoes. This lends a whimsical, artsy quality to the film.
You will feel something whilst watching Less Than a Bed. The mental health sufferers articulately discuss their attempts to take their own lives, and how they found themselves being moved from one hospital to the next. One girl’s story of being placed somewhere in Birmingham, when her home was in London suggests a broken system. You expect to read such accounts in The Daily Mail, but here is the proof without the spin.
There’s humour in the documentary too. A girl talks about playing the drums loudly in music therapy, much to the irritation of the nurses. All the participants discuss how hospital can be frightening, even traumatic, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Young people can form valuable relationships on psychiatric wards, which can be a lifeline. Most encouragingly, all those interviewed are moving on with their lives, in terms of work, education and their personal well being. One girl says she is happy. Another is going steady, managing to hold down a job as she copes with the ups and downs of her condition.
Serene, oriental sounding music is used subtlely to convey a sense of recovery / arriving at a peaceful place. The soundtrack also features brooding, doomy guitars.
Izzy produced Less Than a Bed: An exploration of psych ward experiences, because she feels a lot of films are being made about mental health, but none about people’s experiences inside a psychiatric ward. The subject matter is close to her heart. In 2013 she spent a month as an inpatient herself.
Izzy says, “The contributors featured in Less Than A Bed are a perfect example of how life can become positive again.”
“A hospital admission doesn’t have to define your past, or your future; sometimes it can be the first step to recovery and being able to truly enjoy life again.”
Through direct testimonials, she has captured life in a mental hospital in the most honest way possible.