This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 24th June 2012
This Kiwi documentary, perhaps named with a nod to Split Enz’s debut album, is a fascinating if gruelling account of the type of subject we don’t really want to have to think about. Mental illness is endemic in our society, and those who experience unwellness are part of our communities.
But this relatively enlightened treatment, that sees people with challenges living normal lives next door, is a new development. Mental Notes goes back to a time when the “loonies” were segregated from society, locked up in institutions whose names will be familiar, even if we were lucky enough never to visit.
Five interviewees talk us through their experiences of abuse and bad practice in places that have long since been shut down. Without histrionics or bitterness, our protagonists revisit the locations where chunks of their lives were removed by lobotomies or misdiagnosis (“Everyone was a schizophrenic in those days”), and talk about how they moved on.
Conceived as a response to an ignored government report, the film is compelling viewing, and while the topic is not by its nature uplifting, there is a strength in the characters and their story that makes this a must-see.