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changing mental health in the media- in conversation with ella greenwood

Updated: Feb 19, 2021

In recent years, the discourse surrounding mental health has seen a slight improvement, and we've begun to see a rise in the portrayal of mental illness in books, movies, tv shows and more. Through the likes of Sally Rooney's Normal People and Bo Burnham's Eight Grade, the stigma surrounding mental health appears to be slowly withering away. But is enough being done? And are these presentations that we have seen in mainstream media accurate, or is the gritty reality of mental illness still being shied away from?

I had the chance to speak with Ella Greenwood, a filmmaker, actor and passionate advocate for a change in presentation of mental health in the media. At only 19 years old, Ella became the director of Broken Flames Productions, her very own production company. Her recent short film 'Faulty Roots' focuses on a teenage girl struggling with depression, reflecting Ella's own personal battle with mental illness as a teenager. Through her filmmaking, Ella wanted to share her own stories, and contribute to the positive change she wanted to see within the media.

"I’ve always loved acting but when I turned 18 I decided that I wanted to tell my own stories, and to be involved with different aspects of film. Mike Flanagan is one of my favourite directors as I’m a huge fan of horror films and he’s so great at really getting you thinking and playing with your mind. I also love Sarah Gavron’s work as she creates such authentic characters"

"Faulty Roots is about two teens with different genetic conditions who are forced to form a friendship. It focuses on the lead character of Lola who is a teenager with depression. The reason I made Faulty Roots was because I had struggled with my mental health as a young teen and wanted to share my experiences with this. The media has always had a huge impact on my life and the way mental health is poorly represented in the media is something that I really want to change as I know it would have made a huge difference when I was at my lowest point."

I wondered just how much of Ella's personal struggle was reflected in Faulty Roots, and how it was that she came to be so open when discussing her own mental health.

"With the short there are definitely things I went through and I think even more so with the feature version. There are universal similarities shared between people with mental illnesses, but there are also things that are completely different. When I was younger I didn’t want to talk about it at all, or to admit that I was struggling with my mental health, and even when I was writing the script I still felt scared about doing it on something that was so personal to me but I’m so glad that I did. Now, I would answer any question about my mental health and want to talk about it as much as possible to continue the conversation and to raise more awareness!"

A feature length film of Ella's Faulty Roots is currently in the making, and with Deadline announcing Gavin & Stacy's Melanie Walters and Sandition's Kayleigh-Paige Rees as the first to join the film, this is sure to be a very exciting time for Ella. With some well known names set to be apart of the project, there is no doubt that Faulty Roots will get the recognition it deserves.

"I’m so excited! We’ve got some incredible actors that have joined the project and I can’t wait to work with them and to see them bring the characters to life. I’m so grateful that I get to expand on the topic of mental health even more."

A feature length film of Faulty Roots will be sure to bring the much needed attention to the conversation surrounding mental health, but according to Ella there is still much more to be done. Despite recent improvements, there is still a huge need for accurate portrayals of mental illness, especially for teenagers and young people who feel alone in their struggles.

"I think representation in the media is incredibly bad, and it needs to be addressed massively. There is a real lack of representation of mental health, and then when it is included in the media, it is often portrayed inaccurately. There’s a real problem with the media using mental health for entertainment value and with romanticising suicide. Just being incredibly open and honest. Telling people that there is help available, and that it is a good thing to admit that you’re struggling and need support"

"There is always the need to be more tolerant and understanding with most things but particularly mental health. It’s still not taken as seriously as it should be and a lot of people get ignored when they’re struggling. The media impacts everyone’s lives, probably a lot more than they realise and so it is crucial in raising awareness and encouraging openness."

Although crucial, the urgent need for more mental health discourse stretches well beyond the media. Finally, I asked Ella whether she thinks more needs to be done to improve mental health support in schools and in the workplace.

"100%. Mental health wasn’t mentioned at all when I was in school and so I had no idea what I was experiencing. It’s so important to educate young people on their mental health and mental illnesses. There also needs to be so much more support in the workplaces. It can often be seen to be part of working, stress, anxiety, etc, but struggling with mental health should never be normalised. It’s imperative that more support is offered to people wherever they are, with whatever they are doing."

I am sure that over the next few years, we will be seeing a lot more from Ella as she continues to improve the conversation surrounding mental health through her work. For now, her latest film 'Self-Charm' is currently in the works, and is set to star Bukky Bakray from Sarah Gavron's Rocks.

Big thanks to Ella Greenwood for taking part in this interview

Piece by @poppygibbss

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