State of Mind: Cultural Perspectives on Mental Health

by Inga Yandell

Mental Health Week signifies a growing awareness and interest in fostering new narratives around mental health issues. First held in Australia in 1985, the annual event coincides with World Mental Health Day on October 10th and includes “Mental As”, a collection of stories on mental health issues aired by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

These documentaries do a fine job of promoting new science and expressing unique perspectives on various conditions from Autism to Alzheimers. Though if I could add anything to their line-up it would be the cultural documentary CRAZYWISE co-directed by photographer-filmmaker Phil Borges. In this program we learn how indigenous cultures encourage exploration of altered states—what emerges is an understanding that ‘reality is relative’ to the individual and the culture.

People with unique sensitivities are offered guidance and respect to empower self discovery and confidence to embrace their differences. This is starkly different from the stigma associated with different states of mind amongst modern society. Shapeshifting and vision quests move beyond concepts of fiction or myth—this film shows how these practices represent an opportunity to master states of heightened awareness and to skilfully navigate new experiences with an open mind.

CRAZYWISE examines the effects of how modern vs traditional cultures approach mental health and what the outcome is for people who are labeled as mentally dysfunctional, disturbed or disabled. What are the consequences of diagnosing and prescribing drugs to treat an illness? Should we consider it a unique form of insight when someone hears voices in their head or experiences hallucinations? Is it better to administer pharmaceuticals to dampen these aberrations or enhance them? The film poses these questions, but also offers audiences a more expansive and inclusive view of mental health. It is a noteworthy omission from ABC’s “Mental As” showcase, one which reveals the mental health costs of limiting our state of mind.

Read our interview with Phil Borges in issue 47.

Phil Borges, a social documentary photographer and filmmaker, has been documenting indigenous cultures for over 25 years. His films and photographs are exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide. Phil has hosted television documentaries on indigenous cultures for Discovery and National Geographic. As an experienced lecturer, he has spoken at multiple TED talks. Phil directed 13 short documentaries focusing on gender based issues around the world for UN Women, CARE, ReSurge, joinFITE, Foundation for Women and One Heart. Two recent films include: One Heart in Nepal (2012, 6:39 min), and Ms. Trung (2012, 4:51 min).

CRAZYWISE is available to stream, download or purchase as a DVD. You can also attend or host a community screening, details @ crazywisefilm.com

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Inga Yandell
Explorer and photo-journalist, passionate about nature, culture and travel. Combining science and conservation with investigative journalism to provide educational resources and a platform for science exploration.
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