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"What’s next in mental health?" asked the experts at the inaugural OKRE Summit

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The panel focused on the different approaches to depicting mental health in film and media, and what could change for the better

"What’s next in mental health?" asked the experts at the inaugural OKRE Summit
Alex Bushill and Kate Martin (© RAW Photography)

The inaugural edition of the OKRE Summit took place in London on 15 June. The brand-new event welcomed speakers from across film, social media, games, audio, television, academic research and charities for a full day of panel discussions, presentations and deep dives. One of the panels organised by the gathering, titled "Beyond Talking: What’s Next in Mental Health" and moderated by Playtra Games founder Dan Bernardo brought together Stewart Kyasimire (BAFTA award-nominated film director), Alex Bushill, (Head of Media and PR at Mind) and Kate Martin (Head of Lived Experience at the Wellcome Trust) to discuss different approaches to depicting mental health in entertainment.

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Acknowledging that depicting mental health can feel like a minefield, the panel stressed the need for creators to use up-to-date research and to be informed by lived experience. “Lived experience has to be at the heart of everything we do because that gives the foundation of not just storytelling, but how we turn that storytelling into something that is realistic… We try to make sure there's a much better evidence base out there that people can connect and engage with. Our role is to be at the cutting edge of that research on the trajectory of mental health challenges," said Martin.

"We know from our own research that 1 in 5 people who see a mental health storyline depicted on soaps or dramas will recognise a mental health problem in themselves either in that moment or historically so that underlines the power and responsibility of those traditional [media] channels," added Bushill.

"We also know that 1 in 4 people who hear someone [an influencer or celebrity] on social media or elsewhere talking about their own lived experience will mean that they themselves recognise their own mental health problem in either that moment or historically. If you are able to understand that power and therefore shape how that conversation plays out on those channels in an authentic and accurate way, as opposed to a sensationalist or overdramatic way, then you have that sweet spot of being able to reach people, raise awareness, and create that momentum for people to address their own mental issues and needs and demonstrate help seeking behaviours," he continued.

On the topic of what could change within depictions of mental health, Kyasmire stated: "For me, it’s finding a way to showcase that having this illness is actually a superpower and there is actually some positivity in that as well."

"Rather than the crisis or the big traumatic moments, which of course play a part, I would like to see the meta reality of having lived with or living with mental health challenges, showing the nuance of how it affects relationships, how do we choose how to get support, showing people doing things to help themselves as well as their peers and communities – I think that would be huge," added Martin.

"I’m really tired of depictions of mental health settings as being One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’s Victorian institutions, an asylum with really horrible, stigmatising, two dimensional pictures of people being in that particular setting. There are countless examples of media to this day which have their heart in the right place, they’re trying to explore ideas around trauma and recovery, and they just return to that trope. And it’s really, really irritating and stigmatising for anyone who has ever been sectioned or been detained," concluded Bushill.

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