By Amy Loughlin

A collection of short films debuting at the 2017 St Kilda Film Festival titled ‘Into the Limelight’ have doubled as an observational study exploring mental health.

The short comic films were a collaboration between filmmakers and participants who all have on-going mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, according to artistic director and producer Emma Buckley.

“We were looking for participants with diagnoses of schizophrenia, but we didn’t get the numbers…so it was about 50% that had diagnoses of schizophrenia and schizo-effective disorder,” said Buckley.

“The main aim was the participation and engagement in…a social and creative process,” she said.

They ran around 10-12 sessions with a core group of 16 participants, including workshops on acting, camera operating, and sound.

“It was…a weekly thing, so a couple of hours each week, it seemed to be a great result with participants coming every week and being quite positive about it.”

The mental health and creativity project was conducted by Prahran Mission in conjunction with Melbourne University.

‘Into the Limelight’ and the observational mental health study were run by Associate Professor Neil Cole, who also wrote the short films.

“We were trying to see, whether by engagement in a creative process, that people (with mental illness) would improve…Improving means that they enjoy the process…maybe they’ll…improve what’s called their negative symptoms,” said Cole.

A look at mental health in australia

According to Cole, the results of the observation were not quantifiable, as a typical mental health study would need to be a lot more in-depth.

“We noticed a big improvement in people that participated but…we don’t really have the resources to do extensive research,” he said.

Emma Buckley agreed there was noticeable improvement, stating: “We’ve worked with participants that, at the start…just kind of wanted to be involved in the background, but have developed to be quite outspoken and quite keen to act in main roles.

“Often with these sorts of programs you can get a lot of drop outs…most people who came stayed the duration,” she said.

When asked about whether the situation for people with on-going mental illness was improving, Emma Buckley said: “I think that we’re definitely taking steps in the right direction, because I feel that mental health issues are sort of in the wider zeitgeist now.”

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“There’s a lot of other organisations like St Kilda Film Festival that are open to helping in anyway that they can as well…it’s broadening it out to the wider community and…reducing the stigma.”

The screening of the series of short films will take place at the St Kilda Town Hall on the 27th of May at 12.45pm, and will be a free, all-ages event.

Neil Cole said, “Anybody who would care to come a long and see or to talk about this will all help our campaign to improve the lives of people with schizophrenia in particular.”