Valerie DunnBy Valerie Dunn

The IMPACT Study (Improving Mood with Psychoanalytic and Cognitive Therapies, Goodyer et al., 2011) is a large randomized controlled trial (RCT) in Cambridge, North London and Manchester. The qualitative arm, IMPACT-ME (IMPACT My-Experience) is run by Dr Nick Midgley of the Anne Freud Centre and UCL, London. IMPACT-ME explored experiences of therapy and recovery in a sub-sample of young people and their parents. Their service-user group was keen to disseminate findings to an audience wider than academic publications would reach – their chosen medium was film.

Nick contacted me based on the films we’ve made with young people in care and we were ‘auditioned’ by young people, parents and the team of researchers. We all hit it off right away and the project took off. The young people wanted to make a film primarily for other young people but that would also be relevant and useful to clinicians and others working with young people.

“It [depression] is not a very open subject” explained one young person, “a lot of kids might not realise they are depressed until they watch the film as depression comes in all types and forms. It’s not just if you cry you’re depressed. You could be angry, anxious or worried. Depression is not bog-standard. It’s different for every person, so it’s important to watch the movie and realise that.”

The film, Facing Shadows, aims to capture that diversity of experience and to present a realistic view of therapy. Parents were keen to share their experiences too as there are so few resources available to support parents of depressed young people. During a 4-day workshop the young people brainstormed ideas and brought their ideas to life through animation. Each person took a part in writing, drawing, filming and sound. The voices and conversations which form the sound track to the images were recorded unscripted adding to the authenticity and power of the message. The young people learned a range of animation techniques. “It was interesting because they brought in lots of equipment like lighting and cameras that I hadn’t used before, so it was fascinating to learn how to use something new.”

The film was premiered at the British Film Institute (BFI) in July where the young people confidently held a question and answer session with a large, invited audience. “Having our film premiered at the BFI was incredible” says 18-year-old Emma.

“Depression has such a stigma attached to it, and there is an increasing number of children and young people who are suffering with mental health illnesses. If this film helps just one individual, I’ll be delighted.”

In the companion film, Journey Through the Shadows, three parents share their experiences of caring for a child with depression and getting help. Facing Shadows: Behind the Scenes tells the story behind the project and shows the young people at work combined with interviews. The film has been widely tweeted, including by Stephen Fry and the mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin, whose recent film Stranger on the Bridge was aired Channel 4. Jonny also spoke at the film premiere. So far the film has over 4,500 views on YouTube. The film powerfully conveys the isolation that depressed young people feel and the difficulty sharing their feelings with others. A key message from these young people though is that although getting help is likely to be difficult and experiences of therapy will vary – don’t bottle it up, tell someone.

You can see the films at the links below:

Facing Shadows:

Journey through the Shadows:

Facing Shadows: Behind the Scenes:

Share this article
Tweet about this on Twitter