Madness Made Me is a three-minute film that introduces us to prominent New Zealand mental health care activist Mary O’Hagan. The film follows Mary as she comes face-to-face with the condemning words written about her in her psychiatric files.

Mary’s first encounter with mental healthcare services started in her early twenties. The experience exposed her to an archaic system and concerning attitudes towards those with mental illness. She was told by psychiatrists that she would never hold down a job, that she should never have children, and that she was and always would be mad.

Despite the disempowering labels that were placed on her, Mary has become a world-leading voice for patient rights working tirelessly to educate others and make a difference to the way society and services in New Zealand respond to people with major mental distress.

“I made meaning, not in spite of my madness, but because of it.” 

In the film, Mary confronts two contrasting accounts of her experience: the one professionals were so quick to diagnose, and the one that she herself lived, and attempted to make meaning from. Her own account exists within the pages of her journal, and on the wall of an empty psychiatric ward she challenges the experts who reduced her to a mere illness.

“Things may have changed in New Zealand mental health since the 1980s, in part due to the decades of work done by Mary O’Hagan, but societies the world over still tend to privilege the opinions of ‘experts’ over first-hand experience,” explains Director Nikki Castle.

Watch the film:

Madness Made Me brings up some important questions about mental illness and tackles issues like the power of language, and the power of experience.

Nikki tells WYSK, “My hope is that this film not only encourages independent thought on issues surrounding mental health, but also instills a deeper understanding of what it might mean for a person to experience ‘madness’, and questions how as a society we might emphasize the value of these experiences.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs immediate help, call 1-800-273-8255 to be connected with a trained counselor. For more information and resources visit the National Institute of Mental Health.