The Health Collective speaks to Stewart Hannah, a filmmaker from Scotland who recently released Holding the Rain, a 2 minute silent film aimed at raising awareness about OCD. Stewart says he’s been fascinated by story-telling and filming since childhood, and graduated from the London Film Academy in 2011. He tells Sukanya Sharma that the short film was written, in part, because of his own experience dealing with anxiety.
What was the vision behind the short film? And was there any reason to choose OCD in particular?
Holding the Rain was written in response to my own recovery from anxiety, which I suffered from for many years. My desire was to write a character, challenged with the choice of taking his own life — but with a hopeful outcome. The reason I chose to highlight obsessive compulsive disorder was to not only visually show his anxiety, but bring about greater awareness to a misunderstood illness.
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How do you see art helping this cause?
My short film has a hopeful and positive ending — this was very important to me as typically in film/TV, whenever a character suffers from a mental illness the conclusion to that storyline is usually dark and unfortunate. I have received hundreds of messages from sufferers telling me that the hopeful message brought about some level of inspiration to seek treatment or to simply talk about their issues.
What would you say about the portrayal of mental illness in media — Atypical, Mindhunters on Netflix, Silver Linings Playbook — could creative portrayal of mental health be the answer to eradicating the taboo around this topic?
I think film and TV have a huge responsibility to bring about positive storylines when it comes to mental health. Sufferers are affected by inaccurate depictions it continually negative outcomes. Mental illness is not a dead end in life and it shouldn’t be presented that way in the media so much.
We talk about the creative liberty that filmmakers take to portray a story on screen, how can they be mindful of sensitive topics? What would your message me to your fellow filmmakers be?
When dealing with sensitive subjects you have to transform your mindset to the vulnerable viewer who will resonate with the story. My actor and I were very cautious of this throughout production, and everything we shot we made sure it was tastefully handled with accuracy. So my advice to fellow filmmakers would simply to be aware of your audience during production.
What are two things you learned and would want everyone to know about mental health / illness or OCD?
The first thing I learnt about mental illness through the release of this short film, is that so many people suffer in silence. It’s incredibly surprising how many people I have spoken to who are affected but wouldn’t dare open up about it.
Secondly, some advice I learnt through my own journey is that talking is the first step to recovery. Once you break that barrier and open up to friends, family, colleagues, you inevitably widen your support network, which is very important to living a healthy life.
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In the past year or two, some celebrities have come out with their survival stories — Adele and Chrissy Teigen on Post-Partum Depression, Demi Lovato on getting bullied…Emma Stone talking about her panic attacks, Dwayne Johnson on depression…Do you think this opened up the discussion around mental health?
Notably people in the public eye speaking openly about their own personal struggles is fantastic. It destroys the stigma and breaks down any taboo. These role models are a great encouragement to sufferers and it should be applauded.
If you think you or someone you know may be suffering from OCD or anxiety, please do reach out for help. A list of resources in India is here (updated on a rolling basis).
Disclaimer: Material on The Health Collective cannot substitute for expert advice from a trained professional