mental health week: felicity’s mental mission
The documentary Felicity’s Mental Mission aired last Monday night as part of ABC’s Mental As week. In honour of world Mental Health Week, the ABC is dedicating much of its programming to shows and features that deal with mental health issues. Felicity’s Mental Mission is just one of the many things you can watch on your telly this week that deal with mental health and its now very prominent position in modern-day society. The short flick is an enjoyable and educational roller coaster ride, filled with celeb appearances from the likes of Missy Higgins and rapper 360, as well as plenty of moments that tug at your heartstrings.
The hour-long documentary featured multi-award winning Aussie comedian Felicity Ward as host and mastermind behind a campaign to end the stigmas that surround mental illnesses. The doco kicks off introducing Felicity as she reveals to us that she’s suffered from anxiety for most of her life. The comedian, although having to put on a façade of silliness on stage, has often felt debilitated by her mental health issues. She also recognises that too many Australians have to grapple with mental illness; 1 in 5 Aussies will experience a mental illness at one point in their lives. Yet, stigmas still surround mental illness like a black thundercloud – hovering overhead, about to erupt in our face. Many people who experience depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, or any other mental health issue, will almost always feel ashamed and reluctant to seek help. Ward sets about on a “mental mission” to stop these stigmas in their path.
Felicity meets the founder of 1010.org.au, a website that supports talking about mental health issues, especially as part of World Mental Health Day on 10 October each year. The 1010 site features a ‘promise wall,’ a collaborative board on which users can make a promise that will help them improve their mental health. Felicity then decides that she will try to get 3000 people to make a promise on the promise wall, and if she is successful, she’ll fly in a stunt plane. For someone who struggles with anxiety and quite literally doesn’t like the idea of not being around a toilet all of the time, doing such a stunt is a hugely brave decision for Ward to make.
But she makes it anyway. She is clearly committed to the cause, and throughout the documentary we watch her in the process of getting those 3000 promises, touring her comedy show, and interviewing and meeting people from all walks of life who have dealt with mental illness. One of the most interesting interviews is when she meets a person from the construction industry who has joined Mates In Construction, an organisation that seeks to teach those working in construction how to recognise the warning signs of mental illness in order to prevent suicide. During the interview, Felicity asks him why it’s so hard for construction workers, who are mostly men, to ask for help. He simply states that men just keep things inside too often, and then it becomes an awful, uncontrollable ‘vortex’ of pain.
Suicide rates for those working in construction are extremely high; in fact, construction workers are more than twice as likely to commit suicide than people in other industries. Those staggering figures are what prompted Mates in Construction to form, but as Felicity states in the documentary, the organisation may not have enough funding to carry on. Funding is another huge issue which looms over mental health. As Ward has elsewhere argued, ‘mental health needs more funding and resources and intervention to stop long-term mental illness setting in.’ And it’s true – government funding for mental health issues ‘is only 50% of the average of OECD countries.’
Felicity gets her 3000 promises, and the documentary concludes with her flying upside down and barrel rolling in a stunt plane. It’s incredibly touching to see someone do something so brave all in the name of breaking down everyday stigmas that many of us, all strangers to Felicity, are constantly facing.