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New documentary offers all Australians more than hope this Mental Health Month

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Premiering this October, documentary How to Thrive: a practical guide to happiness is a heartfelt, hopeful journey which tracks the successful transformation of seven participants with mental health issues, guided by Positive Psychotherapist Marie McLeod.

Its goal? To offer actionable tools and strategies for audiences to adopt towards lifelong wellbeing and happiness regardless of where they are on the mental health continuum.

A first documentary from Beyondedge directed by Duy Huynh, How to Thrive launches to coincide with Mental Health Week and is a direct response to the growing mental health crisis. Offering evidence-based approaches from the sciences of wellbeing and positive psychology, the film was made possible with the support of Documentary Australia, Screen Australia, and VicScreen.

How to Thrive asks the question: ‘If we offer the science of happiness to people experiencing struggle, what difference would it make?’ Throughout the film, McLeod sets out to create change by offering participants interventions that focus not so much on their issues, problems and disorders – but rather on the things that are going well in their lives.

“I want to focus on what is strong about us, not what is wrong with us. Human beings have an inbuilt negativity bias. This was great for when we needed that mindset to survive; like being wary of sabre-tooth tigers, but the skills we need to survive now are very different.”

“We are seeing an avalanche of mental health crises at the moment because we’ve lost touch with many of the skills that create connection, compassion and optimism. There are things we can all do every day to take back control of our wellbeing and live a happier, healthier and more meaningful life. I urge people to watch this film and start to take these actions.”

Participants were measured on their levels of psychological, physical and social wellbeing at the start, end and 12 months following their intervention. At the start, they scored an average of -3.2 on the mental health continuum experiencing sub-optimal mental health with most experiencing significant issues. At the end, average scores had improved to positive 5.4 – an almost 9-point gain, where just 2 points would have been a significant improvement.

Dr Peggy Kern, a Positive Psychologist Researcher at the University of Melbourne and an expert on measuring wellbeing and its impact on life trajectory oversaw the program and its impact through tracked data.

“Throughout the program, participants developed skills and resources to support their wellbeing, and felt increasingly able to take care of themselves well. Importantly, psychological distress, feelings of struggle, and loneliness decreased across the program, with decreases sustained 2 years later, with a nearly 150% increase in confidence around wellbeing skills.

“While this is a small sample, it is amazing to see participants increase and sustain their wellbeing – despite traveling through the challenges of the COVID pandemic. This far exceeds results we see in clinical trials for psychology and psychiatry treatments. And of course, without the side effects and problems associated with long term drug dependency.”

Written and directed by filmmaker Duy Huynh, the film was inspired by his own connection to adversity and struggle particularly as a first-generation refugee. How to Thrive is representative of his vision for a world where health, happiness, and thriving skills are accessible to all.

“I’ve always been naively optimistic. Even as I watched those I care about struggle; I’ve always been curious to find a way through the darkness; to find the key that unlocks good mental health. And maybe there is a secret formula to happiness? If there is, maybe we should all get some of it. How to Thrive is a culmination of a lifetime of searching for these answers,” said Huynh.

The documentary is co-produced by Andrew Kelly and executive-produced by Dylan Cooper and Co-founder and CEO of Documentary Australia, Mitzi Goldman.

How to Thrive premieres on Thursday, 13 October, with preview screenings from Thursday, 6 October to coincide with Mental Health Week. Corporate screenings are also available.

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Menchie Khairuddin is a writer Deputy Content Manager at Akolade and content producer for Third Sector News. She is passionate about social affairs specifically in mixed, multicultural heritage and not-for-profit organisations.

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