Thursday 18 July 2019

Film looks at mental health over the years

Brendan Culleton and Irina Maldea
Brendan Culleton and Irina Maldea

Maria Pepper

A Wexford man is behind a major new television series exploring the history of Ireland's treatment of mental illness.

Brendan Culleton is a co-director with Irina Maldea of Ar Intinn Eile (An Irish State of Mind), starting on TG4 on September 17.

The three-part series, written by Virginia Gilbert and produced by Katie Holly of Blinder Films, seeks to dispel some myths about mental health and the stigma often associated with it.

Large parts of the documentary were shot in St Senan's Hospital in Enniscorthy, which is now almost empty.

The series, narrated by Carrie Crowley, also contains previously unseen film footage from other Irish psychiatric institutions.

Ar Intinn Eile combines the latest research with real-life case studies and contributions from leading academics, mental health care professionals and patients.

According to Brendan, the documentary is not the expected story of bleak conditions but rather a recognition of remarkable individuals attempting to improve the lot of Ireland's 'lunatic poor', with varying success.

Before the Famine, the Irish mental health system was the envy of the world. But asylums became overcrowded because it was easy to get in.

The asylum superintendent was forbidden to turn patients away - and in a country racked by poverty, living conditions were better in the asylums than outside.

'Ireland didn't have a higher rate of mental illness, as was occasionally claimed,' said Brendan, a son of local historian and author Dr. Ned Culleton, who won an award for his work in setting up the Irish National Heritage Park.

'But we did have more people in psychiatric institutions. The Irish people knew how to use them and did so freely.'

In dealing with infanticide, the Irish system moved from executing mothers who had killed their children to the more humane approach of confining them in Dundrum Mental Hospital for a year or two.

One conclusion of the series is the detrimental effect of emigration not only on the mental health of emigrants but also their children, born in the host country.

Brendan, a former CBS and St Peter's College student who studied History at UCD, established Akajava Films in 1995 to produce documentaries.

The series will be broadcast on September 17 and 24 and on October 1 at 9.30 p.m. each night.

Gorey Guardian