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Mental illness on the big screen

Volume 9 Number 6 June 10 - July 7 2013


Film is a powerful messenger and the Cultural and Global Mental Health Film Initiative is designed to create thought, discussion and empathy. Annie Rahilly looks at film as a tool for changing attitudes.

Film is telling stories with pictures and stories enrich our lives. Using films to spark debate around mental health issues and promote change is the passion of the School of Population and Global Health’s Erminia Colucci.

The effect of mental health is significant; with poverty, isolation, discrimination and abuse, and a loss of a sense of self just some of the impacts felt by people with a mental disorder.

Dr Colucci, based at the Centre for International Mental Health, is using feature and short films to highlight a range of issues relating to mental health through monthly screenings.  

“The films we have chosen examine topics such as how families around the world experience and deal with mental illness, and how different cultures understand and view mental illness. Such stories can prompt questions, conversations and changes,” she says.

“Film can engage people and create advocacy even with reluctant audiences. Film can touch new audiences as well as audiences that come from the mental health field or from the film world. Film can act as a trigger for changing attitudes.”

Ethnographic documentary in particular can be used as a research tool. Dr Colucci has used ethnographic film and photography to document how groups and individuals understand and deal with mental issues and is currently working on a project on human rights violations of people with mental health issues in Indonesia.

“I am working with communities and authorities in Indonesia to look at ‘Pasung’. This is the practice of keeping people with mental health problems in physical restraints, such as chaining them to beds or enclosed rooms inside or outside the family home. 

“Pasung is often motivated by a sense of shame given the deep stigma surrounding mental illness but also lack of understanding and lack of resources to deal with mental health problems. 

“Through the lens, we can give a voice to victims as well as people who are working to bring about change.” 

For more information about “Breaking the chains” photo/film-documentary project go to 

erminiacolucci.weebly.com/breaking-the-chains.html or


Screenings for the Cultural and Global Mental Health Film Initiative will be on the fourth Monday of each month in Lecture Theatre 1, 207 Bouverie Street.

The screenings are free, no RSPV is required and all are welcome.

For more information or to suggest a film screening, contact Erminia Colucci at 


ecolucci@unimelb.edu.au or go to cimh.unimelb.edu.au