Written by Lucy Nichol

Arts

Watching Black Eyed Susan

Denise Welch has long campaigned for more openness and the dissolving of stigma when it comes to mental illness. Her latest project sees her bringing her experiences to the big screen. Lucy Nichol reckons she’s nailed it.

“Complete authenticity”: Denise Welch stars in the short film Black Eyed Susan, which she also produced.

As a mental health ambassador who has spoken publicly and at length about her battles with depression, it’s perhaps no surprise Denise Welch’s first project as a film producer brings the subject into focus.

Capturing every shade of a depressive relapse, Black Eyed Susan, the short film she has made with writer and director Nick Rowntree, explores the despair, the isolation, the darkness, the why.

It chillingly portrays the front you put up before retreating from your friends and heading deep into its grip; the inability to see the detail in the world around you; the change in pace and the dissociation from time, before it becomes all-consuming and takes every last piece of energy, of self-worth.

Welch, perhaps best known for a lengthy stint in Coronation Street and a decade on the Loose Women roster, brings all of this to the screen with complete authenticity.

The plot of the film, which will undoubtedly be making its presence felt on this year’s festivals circuit, is one of deep-rooted psychological abuse. Of the torment experienced by a woman at the hands of a teenage boy who unexpectedly returns to taunt her and intrude on an otherwise happy life.

His ultimate aim is to break her and he throws everything he can at the cause.

In its short running time, Black Eyed Susan takes you to the heart of depression. And it gives that illness a body, a voice and a menacing presence, terrifyingly portrayed by Welch’s real-life son, Louis Healy.

I haven’t experienced depression myself. But the film still rings absolutely true for me. There are commonalities that depression shares with anxiety, something which has plagued me on and off for years. Isolation, stigma, detachment – all common factors, all dealt with superbly.

Relapse is another experience so many people with mental illness share. It likes to come back and bite your arse every so often, and when you least expect it. The opening of the film – the sunshine, the friends and laughter – demonstrates just that. You don’t have to be in a dark place when the darkness comes after you.


“One thing that was incredibly important to me when we were making the film was that, while we have a responsibility to authentically reflect the darkness that depression brings, we also need the viewer to know that there is always hope,” says Welch. “The sun will come back out. As it did and continues to do for me.

“I think that Nick’s use of colour within the scenes really reinforces this message,” she continues. “The contrast between the stark colour palette used as a backdrop to the teenage boy’s presence, and the warm yellows shining through the curtains as the cloud lifts, creates that feeling of being reconnected with life.”

Couldn’t agree more. Black Eyed Susan brings the message home that depression is an illness, which can pass. Its symptoms are transient and it won’t cloud you forever. It shows you that one day, you will open your eyes and see the world again in all its glory. All its beautiful detail.

Watch this and be moved to tears, be horrified at the torment people endure at the wicked hands of depression. And, if you’re among the one in four people who have experienced mental illness, let it give you a little ray of sunshine. It does not have to become who you are.

Black Eyed Susan is written and directed by Nick Rowntree and produced by Denise Welch. It will be released later this year.

Check out Lucy’s blog on all things mental health here.

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Written by Lucy Nichol

Neurotic hen-keeper, feline friend and mental health blogger. Prone to catastrophisation and over excitement at the garden centre. Caution: do not give Diet Coke after dark.