This project aims to show the unfiltered perspective of people with lived experience of mental illness. Co-production was an integral part and Professor Stephen Coleman describes this as an ‘exemplary’ co-productive project.

The people involved wanted to tell their own stories, and be listened to. They give direct advice to people being trained to work in mental health services from the perspective of having lived experience of mental illness and going through the health system. We hope this helps workers and those in training to better understand and listen to the people they support.

West Yorkshire Health and Care Partnership, Forum Central, University of Leeds, Health Education England (HEE) and eight VCSE organisations from across West Yorkshire contributed to producing the films.

There are six films, and a preview. There is more footage than was used in the final edits. We are open to discussing additional uses for the footage.

Warning: the films and links on this page contain themes of mental health, suicide and self harm.

“I don’t think people realise how difficult it is for people to contribute to films like these. And that’s what this was about. Those people who gave their voices feel like they’re in a trusted space because they know us and that’s why they’re happy to open up … I think these videos will be really powerful.”

Bridget Gill from Spectrum People

“People with lived experience were clearly respected and given opportunities to contribute their own voices.”

Professor Stephen Coleman

Project Report and Evaluation

To accompany the films, an insightful and evaluative report has been written by Professor Stephen Coleman, University of Leeds: The Living with Lived Experience Co-produced Film Project Evaluation (pdf)

In the report Professor Coleman discusses the films and explores key themes. The films feature people sharing their experiences of unwanted journeys into mental illness. Professor Coleman identifies four stages of people’s journey, and the overarching themes:

  1. Recognising the need for help
    People often struggle to describe their feelings and seek help only when their mental health deteriorates. Labels like “craziness” and “madness” are stigmatising, and making sense of available information can be challenging.
  2. Accessing help and support
    Seeking help is courageous, but individuals in the films express frustration with unresponsive services. Inequality and discrimination in accessing professional help worsen the situation.
  3. Establishing trust in help
    Trust is crucial for effective support. Active listening emerges as the primary factor in building trust and healing relationships, allowing individuals to feel heard and understood.
  4. Coping
    Coping differs from cure and involves managing life despite ongoing challenges. The films showcase stories of people learning to cope, serving as inspirational examples along the journey.

Communication is a central theme across these stages

Effective communication involves expressing personal experiences, articulating needs, receiving respectful hearing, and finding practical coping strategies. The report highlights that poor communication leads to negative outcomes throughout the mental health journey. The films aim to shed light on both harmful and compassionate communication instances.

Watch the Living with Lived Experience Films

The Living with Lived Experience films contain people discussing their experience with mental health, suicide, self harm and the health system and practitioners. Viewer discretion is advised.

Accompanying narrative, statistics and insights relating to each of the films is in the report which is linked to above. The films are edited to highlight different parts of the journey as discussed in the report by Professor Stephen Coleman.

  1. Finding the words to describe mental health:
  2. Seeking Help:
  3. Trust and Listening:
  4. Coping:

1. Finding the words to describe mental health:

Film 1: “What does mental health mean to you?”

2. Seeking help

3. Trust and Listening


Funding to commission these films was secured by Gary Blake on behalf of the West Yorkshire Health and Care Partnership. This funding was then managed by Forum Central who organised an Expression of Interest (EOI) process to identify organisations to collaborate in producing these films.

The Living with Lived Experience films were filmed and edited by Jack Ballinger.

Organisations involved in the co-production were:

  • The Cellar Trust
  • Clear Men’s Talk Digital
  • Forum Central
  • Happy Valley Pride
  • Health Education England (HEE)
  • Northorpe Hall
  • Pioneer Projects
  • The Samaritans
  • Spectrum People
  • The University of Leeds
  • West Yorkshire Health and Care Partnership
  • Women’s Circle of Life