A short film which aims to encourage a better understanding of mental health has been made in Shaftesbury. It will be screened at a social evening arranged by Headstrong, a support group formed by three men who became friends at Shaftesbury school.
Alex Bowery, Dan Horsman and Adam Harvey have been spending much of their spare time setting up their new group mental health initiative. “Headstrong is a project from three local lads who’ve either had personal mental health issues or who have been around people that have. We plan to break down the stigmas around mental health, remove barriers and create awareness through events,” said Adam.
The men were all working on separate projects within the field of mental health, as Adam explained. “I was blogging, Dan was hosting social events and Alex was wanting to make a film about it. Call it fate, we realised we were working on things and then brought it all together.”
The men want anyone with mental health issues to know that support is available locally. “It’s about encouraging people to talk, creating a conversation and community. There is help with charities, social media and the NHS, but the health service is under a lot of pressure,” said Adam. “You can’t always be seen within a realistic time frame. If people go to their doctor about their mental health, that probably means they’re in a bad way. To be told that you’ve got to wait sixteen weeks before even a phone call, in some cases, is not great. You can talk, send us a message and talk to other people online. Anything to try and bridge that gap during a difficult time.”
Adam took a big step when he started sharing his experiences in a blog, ‘Anxiety-WTF is this?’ One article, his experience of travelling on a stag-do in Bratislava, offers a raw insight into how anxiety can impact on what many people would consider a relaxed occasion.
Adam is moved that his writing has struck a chord with readers who also experience anxiety. “It’s overwhelming. I’ve had lots of messages from friends, family, colleagues and people I don’t know who can either relate to it, have people in the family they think can relate to it or they have just enjoyed reading it and found it funny, which is the aim,” he said.
It can feel uncomfortable writing innermost feelings and sharing them with the world. “It’s not very easy to press ‘post’,” said Adam. “Sometimes I hover over that button. When I first did it, I thought that I was baring myself. A lot of people would not have known about my mental health past.”
Adam says he was worried about a negative response but his fears were, thankfully, unfounded. “I’ve not had one negative reaction. That’s probably not true for a lot of people on social media, because it’s not always great. From my personal experience, it’s been humbling and positive.”
Writing differs from Facebook, where people readily ‘sound off’. Blog readers are more likely to consider the words in an article. “I think if they’ve started reading it, they’re doing it for a reason. If people can talk or send me a message, it helps them. That’s making a difference. I’ve had people about town say they have read the blog, love it and that they have suffered. A lot of people have said, ‘now I understand more about anxiety issues or OCD’. They are things that are probably trivialised now, but they are real problems that people are going through.”
Adam now appreciates how many Shaftesbury people have similar experiences. “It’s actually quite scary. This is a small town, but there is a high percentage of people with mental health problems or who have had mental health challenges. That goes for every town across the country.”
Adam will continue to blog, alongside his Headstrong volunteering. His friend Alex Bowery has also been writing, drafting the script for a mental health movie. Filmmaking fascinates him. “This all started when I was four years old. I wandered into the lounge when my old man was watching ‘Alien’. John Hurt gave birth. I was terrified for ten years. I’ve wanted to be a filmmaker ever since,” said Alex, who progressed to work in the field professionally. “I was involved with the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ TV show with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, and the film ‘Killer Elite’ with Robert De Niro, Clive Owen and Jason Statham.”
Alex used the Shaftesbury Arts Centre stage to film over four nights, earlier this month. Eleven actors responded to his casting call. Filming was followed by hours of editing to create a short film of under five minutes duration. It is a striking piece. In a few words, the actors convey their sense of distress or despair.
“We wanted to go with a raw and honest portrayal of how people feel, in regards to dealing with their own mental health issues. Standing behind the monitor watching these guys deliver heart-breaking, yet really powerful and inspirational stuff, we started to notice the pain behind the eyes. It felt very real,” said Alex. “When you see words on the page, you have an idea of what it might look and feel like. When these people came in and interpreted it in their own way, and put their own emotion into it, it blew us away.”
The film is visually distinctive, shot in black and white and carefully lit. It will premiere at the Headstrong social event this Friday before an online release. When that happens, Alex hopes the film will be shared on social media. “We’re going to try and make it explode online, with the aim of going viral.”
The men are considering entering this production into short film awards but there is a rigid time restriction, which would require the film to be edited to under three minutes. Alex is uneasy about sacrificing footage. “That can be to the detriment of the film. We’re not willing to compromise on the message,” he said.
He hopes that a future production will go deeper into Shaftesbury’s mental health stories. “This film is a pilot to a larger project that we feel will be even more beneficial. We’d like to invite people from all walks of life to sit down and talk about their experiences living with mental health. It will be a feature-length documentary that we can put out online. It’s going to be quite an undertaking but will share a lot of the same DNA as the film that we’ve just shot.”
The men are buzzing with ideas. “We are on the crest of a wave,’ said Adam. “We have to rein ourselves in a bit because we want to do a film, a photography event and an arts-based event. I’ve been approached about football and cricket matches. These are great ideas and things we want to do, but we want to just do one thing at a time, do it well, and then move on to the next project.”
Headstrong hosts its social event at Shaftesbury Football Club on Friday 30th August at 7pm. “We will try and generate conversation. We’ll come up with a few subjects and get people to talk. After we show the film, we will get people to talk about how it makes them feel. Then we hope to build a community and grow from there,” said Adam.
He says the men are keen to hear what local people want and need. “We want to know what people want us to do, to try and make a difference,” said Adam.
You can follow the men on their Facebook page @theheadstrongproject.