Tips for making a film about your own mental health experience

Have you been following along with our ongoing blog series?

In the last instalment, we covered tips for making a film about someone else’s mental health experience, and today we’re focusing on filmmakers and advocates who want to start the process of making a film about your own mental health story. Not sure if this process is for you? We asked some of our amazing winner filmmakers why making a film on the topic of mental health was so meaningful to them.

Find your voice

Before you dive into the tips below, we encourage you to check out this story of a college student in Canada named Akayla. She participated as a student lived experience panelist at Movies 4 Mental Health last fall, and generously shared her story with us after. Says Akayla about putting her story out into the world: “One of the things I’ve learned with everything I’ve gone through is that telling my story is powerful.” Reading her story might also help you reflect upon your journey, and help you start to develop your voice.

Be true to yourself

It can be incredibly vulnerable to put your story out into the world for the first time. In our Movies 4 Mental Health workshops that are hosted around the country – using OLIVE Film Winners to open up dialogue – we see students courageously sharing their journeys to recovery and wellness. But getting to that place of transparency and comfort is a process. We provide general tips to students who share their stories publicly for the first time, with the foremost suggestion being ‘keep yourself safe’. Because we don’t talk about mental health as often enough in society as we should, sometimes when we’re in a place of openness we feel it’s best to share and put it all out there. But it’s important for your own safety and comfort to check in with yourself and edit details in a way that doesn’t overexpose you and your story.

There is incredible strength in sharing your story, but in any setting, we recommend being mindful of where you’re at before you reveal your complete journey. Says OLIVE Winner Dale John Allen: “The power of A Film About Love is its honesty, and in exposing myself in such a way has strangely given me an incredible amount of freedom.”

Be gentle

Similarly, OLIVE Winner Elizabeth Ayiku shares the value in being true to yourself: “I think the best way to be genuine is to simply tell your story, not the story you think people want to hear. Just get it all out of your head and down on paper. You’ll be surprised what comes out…I initially set out to make this film as a gift to inner child, but my ‘adult self’ got so much out of it as well. ”

Little Elizabeth from Art With Impact

Again – be gentle. “Not only with the topic, but with yourself. There is so much to say about mental health and how valuable any positive and kind discussion is on the topic.” – Ashlen Claire, filmmaker behind Core.

Ask yourself why

“As someone who suffers from mental illness it is incredibly disheartening to see a filmmaker attempt the topic with no real knowledge or first-hand experience with it. You can google symptoms and study stereotypical warning signs of mental illness which you can base your film around but where is the authenticity in that? The films I’ve watched and respected which tackle mental illness are films that come from real experience where there are no cliché gimmicks but instead true heartfelt stories. A Film about Love was made by me, for me, to help me verbalize and make sense of my experiences so I could move on with my life and take care of myself, everything else came later. My advice is to always ask yourself why you are making this and what you would like your film to achieve.” – Dale John Allen (below), filmmaker, A Film About Love 

Dale John Allen Acceptance Video

Is sharing your story an act of strength? A part of your recovery? A way to reclaim power over your experiences? To let others know they’re not alone? Your journey of strength is a gift to others, and in doing so, putting it out into the world requires checking in with yourself.

Nick LeDonne created the powerful film ‘Hanging‘, our September 2017 film winner. Being an incredibly personal film for Nick, releasing this story was a huge step towards a future career in advocacy:

Nick LeDonne Acceptance Video from Art With Impact

Have you made a film about your own mental health journey? What was it like? How did it feel for you? Let us know, or if you have any other recommendations for filmmakers!

Have a short film to submit? Learn more here.

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