Capturing the story and portraying it accurately – the essentials of any good documentary. When it comes to our wellbeing, some pieces tread one step further. Educational, insightful, and treating mental health with sensitivity, here are our top five picks to watch this winter
A documentary is so often a piece of material which informs, but also challenges – whether this is challenging preconceptions, decision makers, or even challenging ourselves to watch the footage unfold. The five shows on our list have stepped up to the plate, not only by refusing to shy away from their subjects, but also because they make compelling viewing.
1. Simply Complicated (2017)
Issues covered: Self-harm, bipolar disorder, addiction, eating disorders
A first-person piece from singer-songwriter Demi Lovato, documenting her personal struggles with mental health, and how she manages it while in the public eye. It takes the viewer on a journey through bullying in her years at school, drug use as her career unfolds, and her management team’s desperate attempts to help her towards sobriety, punctuated by interviews with her mother, a childhood friend, and her sister. Simply Complicated also talks about the one subject Demi believes she is yet to conquer – her eating disorder.
(YouTube, 1 hr 30 mins)
2. Kingdom of Us (2017)
Issues covered: Depression, suicide, grief, men’s mental health
An extraordinary insight into a family coming to terms with suicide. Paul Shanks completed suicide in 2007, leaving behind wife Vikie, six daughters, and a son. Explaining life now through the family’s reflections, it’s intricately punctuated with home videos shot by Paul that capture the gregarious, fun-loving dad, as well as moments of his severe depression. Director Lucy Cohen has created a raw and real account of a sensitive subject.
(Netflix, 1hr 40 mins)
3. Kids in Crisis (2018)
Issues covered: Children’s mental health, obsessive compulsive disorder
The steps between child and adult mental health systems, told candidly through the eyes of a worried parent. TV presenter Sean Fletcher has previously witnessed his son Reuben’s path to treatment and subsequent hospitalisation for severe obsessive compulsive disorder, and has taken it upon himself to investigate the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service.
(BBC Panorama, 30 mins)
4. The Stranger on a Bridge (2015)
Issues covered: Depression, suicide, men’s mental health
Previous Happiful cover star Jonny Benjamin’s journey to discover the man who saved his life on Waterloo Bridge in 2008. Six years after they first met, we follow Jonny’s search for his saviour (Neil Laybourn), which went viral. A powerful piece giving background to the mental health advocates’ story, along with their emotional reunion.
(Channel 4, 50 mins)
5. Me and My Mental Health (2018)
Issues covered: Anxiety, suicide, psychosis, drug addiction
Me and My Mental Health reveals the complexities of MH conditions. Amongst others, comedian and radio host Iain Lee discusses depression, talk show host Trisha Goddard explains how anxiety led her to attempt suicide, and actor Adam Deacon reveals how a drug habit led to psychosis.
(Channel 5, 65 mins)