Channel 4 is to broadcast a bold season of prime-time programming this summer challenging mental health stigma and discrimination - particularly in the workplace. Entitled, 4 Goes Mad, the season will include a two-part stripped event and documentaries presented by comedians Ruby Wax and Jon Richardson.
The 2 x 60 min event (currently untitled) from Cineflix Productions will feature a cast of eight dynamic employees - some of whom have a mental health condition - who are out to prove the stereotypes wrong. They have agreed take part in a variety of task and activities before a prestigious panel of employers whose job is to decide who they consider to be employable. A psychiatrist and psychologist will guide viewers through the maze of mental health conditions.
A key added twist is that some of the contributors will have appeared 'undercover' on some of Channel 4's most popular prime-time strands in the week before the two-parter is broadcast. Clips of their appearances on these shows will also be shown throughout the series.
Factual Commissioning Editor Lina Prestwood is overseeing the season, she says: "This lively and entertaining format will encourage viewers to see the person rather than the diagnosis. We're confident that the individuals who do have a mental health problem will be indistinguishable from other contributors as they appear across the schedule and that their appearance in this series will defy deeply-ingrained assumptions about people with mental health-problems - particularly relating to their ability to work."
"We have worked closely with leading mental health organisations including the Mental Health Foundation and Time to Change to ensure that, across the week, our audiences will be meeting people with conditions such as depression, bipolar, eating disorders, OCD and schizophrenia in a way that is surprising and enlightening."
Sue Baker, Director of Time to Change, England's national mental health anti-stigma programme, run by the charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, said: "The stigma that still surrounds mental health problems is life-limiting and sometimes tragically life threatening. Even though mental health problems are very common, people still feel too embarrassed or afraid to talk about them. However we are slowly starting to see more open public discussion, and growing interest from employers.
"It's encouraging to see a major broadcaster tackle this deep-seated taboo. We realise that, at its heart, this is an entertainment season but we hope it will turn the spotlight onto a subject that desperately needs to be de-mystified and open it up to a much wider audience."
Building on the success of her current mental health stage show, as part of which audience members often reveal their mental health stories for the first time, Ruby Wax, who herself has depression, will be following a number of successful businesspeople as they disclose a mental health condition to their employers - and, in some cases, even family and friends inRuby Wax's Mad Confessions (w/t) (1 x 60).
Ruby says: "Why is it that every other organ can get sick and you get sympathy except the brain? Stigma is the real illness and it's at its worst in the workplace, so that's what we're focusing on."
Meanwhile in Jon Richardson: A Little Bit OCD (w/t) (1 x 60) Jon will be exploring a subject very close to the subject of his own stand-up shows and book, ‘It's Not Me, It's You' as he delves into the world of Obsessive Compulsive Disorders. He'll be meeting people across the OCD spectrum and find out once and for all if he's a simply a demanding perfectionist or has OCD.
Jon says: ""The over-simplistic treatment of OCD for comedy is a huge bugbear of mine, even though it's something I use myself. I'm looking forward to tackling the uninformed abandon with which the term is bandied about."
The on-air season will be supported by a bespoke website offering additional information and interactive elements to engage viewers with the issues.
Channel 4 Disability Executive, Paralympics & Creative Diversity, Alison Walsh adds: "A quarter of us will experience mental distress or disorder at some point in our lives, as the complex web of factors that affect our mental health fail to equip us to cope with what life throws at us. Yet ‘madness' is a subject we mostly try not to talk about - and when we do, we are afraid of saying the wrong thing. In the best tradition of Channel 4 disability programming this season will bring a blast of honesty and straight-talking to both entertain and explore the issues."