Films highlight the human cost of cutting personalised support


theweek120by150People in mental distress are being denied the personalised support they need to stay healthy and out of hospital, according to a mental health arts charity. 

CoolTan Arts was screening three new films by its members about the personalisation of care and support, and how such support can help people with mental health conditions by offering them more choice and control over the services they use.

Michelle Baharier, CoolTan’s chief executive, said: “Personalisation was meant to come in to enable people to have choice and control… to choose things that keep them well.”

But she told the audience at the British Film Institute (BFI) on London’s South Bank that CoolTan had lost funding that paid for 46 people in mental distress to use its services.

This had been replaced by funding for just 12 people who have been found eligible for a personal budget from their local authority and could use some of that money to pay the £3,000 it costs to support them for a year at CoolTan.

Since the cuts, 18 of those denied support have had to return to hospital because their health has deteriorated, while four of the people who had to stop using CoolTan’s services have died in less than a year.

Baharier said: “Just pulling the carpet from under people’s feet is absolutely disgusting. In mental health it is like taking the wheelchair away from the wheelchair-user.”

She said there was a “good body of evidence” that providing a small amount of funding to organisations like CoolTan saves public services much larger amounts of money.

The police helicopter that was used after one of CoolTan’s former members committed suicide cost about £5,000, while the money spent on a two-week spell in hospital could pay for two years’ support from CoolTan.

She also criticised local MPs who were “hiding under the bed” rather than “fighting our cause”.

Two of the films made for the Making it Happen project are animations and the third is a short documentary.

Richard Muzira, one of the film-makers, told the audience that he hoped CoolTan could produce more work that illustrated the issues faced by people with mental distress.

He said: “There is room to create more media, not just film, to extend, to do more, to show the effects as we are hearing right now.”

Another of the film-makers, Doug Taylor, said the film he worked on showed “what people are having to go through… when the people supposed to be helping us and support us are not seeing it through”.

He said he was concerned that cuts to day services would lead to “more and more people going back into hospital”, while many people were still waiting to hear whether they would receive a personal budget from the council.

A third film-maker, Adrian Whyatt, told the BFI audience: “We do have to fight this idea that there is no money out there. There is money out there.”

He added: “At the moment, most people suffering from mental distress are not aware of their rights and are not getting the things they need.”

One of the two animations – which has yet to be completed – focuses on the benefits of personalisation to disabled lesbian gay bisexual and transgender people, and features the words and voice of Steve Hampson, a CoolTan member who died last November.

He says in the film: “If I don’t have money, I fear being isolated, being pushed in the corner, where I have to stay indoors and go round to a soup kitchen and a church.

“There’s nothing wrong with that, but I just don’t want to live that life, so it gives me a kind of freedom… If I can live OK, I can help other people… I can help my people around me.”

The second animation looks at the experience of a man with schizophrenia, and how he discovers that he can use a personal budget to pay for guitar lessons.

The third film, A Stitch in Time, is a documentary. Service-users describe what personalisation means to them, such as “a bit of freedom, a bit of confidence”, “the ability to get up and do things”, and “giving individuals the power to carry out personal tasks”.

One service-user tells how she used to attend CoolTan three times a week to paint, but now her council funding has been withdrawn she has to just “stay at home and smoke”.

Another says that without the support she needs, her health will deteriorate and she will end up being sectioned.

She says: “They don’t do nothing until I have got a breakdown and it will cost thousands and thousands… Yesterday I qualified [for funding]and today I don’t.”

The Making it Happen project was funded by the research and consultancy company Ecorys and the Department of Health’s Volunteering Fund Health and Social Care.

26 March 2013