Interview Reflection

My goal was to create story that showed some of the daunting incidents mental health workers face. My media project is vaguely based on experiences I’ve had while working in the mental health field. The unpredictable nature of those suffering mental illnesses makes knowing exactly what to do in a difficult situation very challenging. Workers are often trying their best to handle the situation and experience is key. Sometimes it works out well, like in the story, other times it does not. The essential story of the project is a person new to the field dealing with a frightening situation started by a very simple mistake. In the end, the protagonist comes out on the other side with more experience and a little more confidence in himself. A major point is the idea of doing something that does not come naturally in that kind of situation. There’s a lot of that in the mental health field—having to overcome instincts, like trying to rationalize with an irrational person. Very often, the less one says or does, the easier the situation is resolved, but that often contrary to what we do naturally.

My goal in creating this work was to demonstrate the experiences of mental health workers to those whom may not know what it’s like. The mental hospital pictured at the beginning and is Western Mental Health Institute in Bolivar, TN. I visited patients there on several occasions, but never actually worked there. However, the place has left a deep impression on me. Nothing within the digital story happened, per se, but is based on experiences I’ve had working with individuals. I have had clients begin screaming at me over what I perceived as insignificant verbal interaction but it triggered something in them. The questionnaire mentioned is only a device to move the story along, I’m not aware of a form like this being used in a real setting. I say this so experienced professional understand why the form is in there, but it’s those unfamiliar with the field to which I’m trying to communicate. I hope the message I was trying to convey comes through.

I chose this form of storytelling because I found it effective and easy to use. The map, script and table were the longest parts of development. Creating the piece itself only took a few hours. This is only my first time creating a digital media presentation and my second time using the movie making program, so I’m still learning how to use it effectively. I’m painfully aware of technical and presentation errors that demonstrate my neophyte status. That said, I really did enjoy the process of creating it. It is really simple and I think almost anyone could easily create their own pieces. I think this would be great tool for helping children learn to create and present stories, but I also think this would work well in a mental health setting to help people express themselves and communicate. I’m excited to try my hand at doing more of these and helping others do so as well. I hope over time to become more adept at creating a smoothed and polished final project.


Media Project and Description

This media project was created to show how narrative form can be utilized for digital story telling.  My first post was of the Story Map, which laid out the path the story would take.  I decided to use some personal experience and create a story about a mental health profession having a rough moment.  The narrative introduces the setting and characters (the worker and the location); next comes the conflict the protagonist must overcome (the client outburst); finally he comes out on the other side changed, hopefully for the better (handling the situation and being congratulated by the doctor).

The second step was to create a script, essentially all the words that make up the story.  Everything I spoke in the story had to first be written out.  The script had to follow the path of the Story Map, which can be more difficult than it sounds.  It’s easy to add to much or not enough little.  Next a story table that pairs the words from the script to images was created.  This meant coming through images to find ones that fit what was happening in the story.  Finally, the words and images are combined into a digital story.  The video above demonstrates the outcome of this process.


Shortly after graduating college with a psych degree, I got a job working at a mental hospital. The place looked like an asylum from a scary movie. The facility was 200 hundred years old, with gothic architecture composed of dark brick. The main hall even had a small museum with relics from the past, like cribs with locks on them and newspaper clippings from the 1920’s touting Insulin Shock Therapy as the latest cutting edge in treatment. The inside of the place was always hot, no matter the outside temperature. Every inch of the place, the rooms, halls and offices, close smelled of disinfectant, mildew and body odor.

Most of the patients were not dangerous, in fact most of them were very pleasant and friendly. But it’s still good to be cautious because sometimes close quarters and an unfriendly environment can make people do things they would not normally do.

Despite being relatively new, I was assigned to conduct daily interviews with certain patients. The interviews were done one-on-one in a small private room down the hall from the common room. The room had a two way mirror so security of patients and staff could be unobtrusively monitored. I was never sure if there was anyone was ever on the other side of the mirror, but I felt better thinking there was.

The interview procedure was simple. I got a patient from the common room and brought them to the private room to be interviewed. I had a sheet paper with questions to ask. I wrote down the patient’s response with a felt tip pen, then sent the patient back to the common and handed the interview paper into the nurses’ station. I was only to ask the questions on form. I was not to say anything else or engage in any type of conversation. There was even a reminder at the top of the paper not to deviate from what was written.

You would think the procedure was simple. Step 1) Ask the questions; Step 2) Write down answers; Step 3) Don’t say about anything else. I had been told that over and over by the supervising doctor. He had stressed the procedure for a very specific reason. I wasn’t given the reason; that apparently wasn’t important. Just ask the questions, write down the answers, and move onto the next patient. The procedure was simple enough even a neophyte like myself should have been able to handle it.

I screwed it up.

The first few dozen times everything went fine. I asked questions; wrote down answers; the patients didn’t say much else, and I knew the procedure.

Then during one interview I asked the question, “Did anyone visit you yesterday?” Until now, everyone had just said no. But today, a patient, we’ll call him Joey, said, “Yes.” Joey seemed to be in his 40’s, but one thing I’d noticed is that everyone in the facility, even the employees, all looked much older than their actual age. Joey may have been in his 20s for all I knew.

There was a follow-up question on the paper, “If so, who?”

“My Mama,” Joey replied.

“That must have been nice.” That wasn’t on the paper. But I had said it, a polite conversation reflex, without thinking.

Joey’s face morphed from peaceful to angry. At what I assume was the full volume of his voice he screamed, “It wasn’t, I hate that bitch. She comes in here and touches me and has sex with the doctors.” This tirade of the filthy acts his mother had committed while visiting continued for what seemed like hours. I thought the screaming would alert someone, a team of ninjas with anti-psychotics and sedatives hopefully for both of us, perhaps. But no one came into the room. A screaming patient in a mental hospital doesn’t cause the alarm you think it would.

I sat there; looking around; helpless. Having gone off script once and having it blow up in my face made me leery say something else. My instincts told me I should talk to him, try to calmly reassure and sooth him. There had to be some combination words that would miraculously shut this down. I tried to think through every class and experience I’d had, but nothing was coming to mind. I must have skipped magic calming words day.

The top of the interview paper said reiterated, “Don’t say anything not listed here.” Based on what was happening, that seemed like good advice.

After what seemed like a very long time, Joey paused from screaming about his mother her sexual relations with the doctors, patients, nurses, guards and their pets, long enough for me to ask the next question. “What is your goal for today?” My ears were ringing so badly I couldn’t hear myself ask the question.

As though the last few minutes had never happened, Joey says, “To stay calm.” I was amazed he still had a voice after screaming for so many hours.

I wrote this down and look at what’s next on the paper. “Thank you. You can return to the common room.”

Joey left the room.

What the hell just happened? I laid my head on the table for a moment; my heart was beating at a speed I didn’t know it could achieve while sitting still. I knew I needed to get the next patient, but I needed a moment to decompress.

“His mother’s been dead since he was five,” a voice at the door said. The doctor entered the room and closed the door. “That outburst was only about a minute, he’s had them last for hours. He’s loud but so far he’s never been physically aggressive.”

My first thought was, Apparently somebody had been behind the mirror.

My second thought was, How the hell had that only been a minute?

Feeling embarrassed and unprofessional, I sat up straight and tried to compose myself. The doctor, seeming to understand my current state, dismissed my concerns with a wave of his hand.

“The reason we ask the question about visitors is to assess for psychotic episodes. I’d say Joey had one. But we also don’t ask follow-up questions to avoid what just happened.”

I wanted to make a witty, or at least compelling response, but all I managed was, “Sorry.”

“It happens,” the doctor replied. “But the important thing is you stayed calm, at least outwardly and didn’t make the situation worse. There aren’t too many people that can do that, my colleagues included. I hope you plan on being here for a while.”

I absolutely did not plan on being here longer than I had to. Though the doctor’s words made me feel better and gave me confidence, I knew this was a place I didn’t want to be for very long.