Human Beings are more than a Combination of Letters, or; Why We Needed a Film Festival

Hanna, a colleague of mine, and I met with a parent who tells about his son who has been a “psychiatric patient” since the age of twelve. He has been an inpatient in a nursing home before, and is back again as an inpatient. Prescriptions for lots of pharmaceuticals; four different kinds of antipsychotics at the same time, and three kinds of drugs to calm down, to relax him, and to manage the horrible side effects. Nowadays the son is mostly sleeping. He finds it hard to deal with his body.

A few days later another parent calls to ask us for a meeting with her daughter, herself, and her husband. They have heard that we — many times — have experienced that it is possible to deal with hard life situations without using medication. That we believe in the importance of taking part in one´s own life and context; that is, we know that we all are influenced by that which is happening around us, in our own tiny worlds as well as in the global context, and that humans are feeling and thinking creatures who navigate within that context.

In recent decades psychiatric diagnosis and pharmaceuticals have become a part of our daily life and language. People are so accustomed to diagnostic descriptions and prescriptions of medication that they hardly reflect on them. We use terms — “OCD”, “ADD”, “ADHD”, “DID”, “BPD”, “PTSD” to casually describe people as if these combinations of letters somehow capture all we need to know of a person’s life and experience. Through psychiatry and the media we commonly hear about various benefits for the one who is called “patient.” We also (if less explicitly) hear about benefits for the people around him or her. So much so that many teachers, social workers and psychotherapists have adapted medical language and the intra-individual perspective as their own.

But there is also another narrative, one which is seldom told; the narrative that includes meetings and conversations with people who are full of despair. Many times I find myself thinking that the feelings expressed the first time I meet with people at work remind of the stories told by refugees coming to Sweden who talk about the horror, but also about the hope for something else, something which makes life worth living; A safe place, surrounded by human beings who are willing to be a part of our lives for a time.

The numbers pertaining to mental health have multiplied in the last twenty years in Sweden as in many other countries in Europe and the US.  New psychiatric diagnosis are continually “invented” and proliferate in a way we have never experienced before, as do prescriptions for chemical preparations that are marketed as medication for them. More and more, children and teenagers use daily preparations of which no one knows the long-term effects.

Just as in the fairy tale written by HC Andersen about the emperor without clothes, an “as-if reality” is taking place wherein people are told about phenomena related to mental health issues as if they were true. Alternatives to the individual medical model are most often met by silence, or as if there is neither evidence nor sense in the alternatives presented.

Fortunately we are among an increasing number of people around the world who know the importance of holding on to a humanistic idea, and of keeping in mind that people need—first and foremost—other people. People who are willing to take part, to share with us the horror and confusion, to invite the telling of a narrative, and to keep the hope alive.

In her thesis, Barbro Sandin writes:

“In conclusion I would like to say: human beings are human beings. Human beings are borderline creatures: in other words, creative and responsible creatures… Humans are free to choose, or rather, free to renege on their humanity, renege on the insight of being human. Humans can allow themselves to be engulfed by the bureaucratic system I mentioned previously. Humans can allow themselves to become robots or “hold on” to their illusions. But if a human being does this they are no longer real according to the concept human being. In other words, there are options but human beings have no choice. A human being´s choice is to be a human being”

That is why we have created—and invite you to—our film festival: to remind us of humanity, and the dilemmas of human life. Human beings are so much bigger and more complex than combinations of letters. Human beings are part of a social, political, cultural context wherein each of us are influenced and affected by each other.

The film festival is a collection of global experience that comes from professional as well as lived experience. It is a festival of narratives—and data—that extend knowledge and provide us with the hope and courage to make a necessary change happen.