Contributor corner: Barry J Gibb – Last Chance Saloon

Barry J GibbBarry J Gibb's odd career began as a molecular biologist and neuroscientist but he succumbed to creative urges and started freelancing as a hybrid filmmaker and writer. After several documentaries for Channel 4 (Life After Coma) and the BIMA Award-winning 'Routes', he became the Wellcome Trust's Science Multimedia Producer. In 2011, his 30 minute film Until won the Imagine Science Film Festival's Nature People's Choice Award. His book, The Rough Guide to the Brain, is now in its second edition. 

Twitter: @barryjamesgibb

Barry’s 11-part film miniseries, Last Chance Saloon has been airing weekly on Mosaic. The series culminates with the final episode and a special cinema screening in Cardiff as part of Mental Health Awareness Week 2014.

What is your film series about?

At one level, Last Chance Saloon is an attempt to encompass a great slice of what’s presently known about a whole range of mental illnesses. But it’s also a classic hero’s journey filled with hope, hurdles and the odd moment of despair.  At the heart of the story is Twink, a long time sufferer of bipolar disorder, a veteran of mental illness who’s seen it all and, on occasion, tried to end it all.

We follow Twink on his musical and neurological journey as he meets and interviews Cardiff based experts about a whole range of mental illnesses, in an attempt to get to the root of what his own, and others, conditions actually are – looking for glimmers of hope in the midst of brains scans and discussions about drugs and genetics. An accomplished musician, Twink also decides to give a little back to Cardiff's scientific fraternity by putting on a special gig; a terrifying prospect for a recluse.

Ultimately, the series is about what we don’t know about mental illness, as much as what we do – a banjo strumming call to social, scientific and government action to stop stigmatising, increase research and support those with mental illness.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

How similar we all are. It may sound trite, but there was a point when myself, Twink and the assembled crew he’d managed to acquire for the gig were hurtling down a motor way from Newcastle to Cardiff (episode 10) and someone pointed out I was one of the only people on the bus that didn’t have a mental illness. Had no one pointed this out, I’d have been none the wiser.

The labels we assign to people with mental illness may be medically useful, from the perspective of treatment but, within a social context, they carry an immense judgmental burden that feeds stigma. My hope is that the films will help people realise how similar we all are, it’s just some of us need a little more help than others to get through the day.

Watch the final episode of Last Chance Saloon on Mosaic, airing 15 May 2014. You can watch all previous episodes on our Last Chance Saloon YouTube playlist.

Also publishing on Mosaic on 15 May, Jenny Diski's personal exploration of chronic depression.