The Fragments web series was launched on 23 February at the National Film and Sound Archives in Canberra by the ACT Arts Minister, Tara Cheyne. An audience of nearly 150 was the first to view the full cut of the web series, followed by a Q&A with the creative/production team, moderated by Canberra documentary director, Michael Lawrence-Taylor. The project took nearly two years to complete, thanks to the pandemic and its aftermath, but thanks to the passion, commitment and perseverance of Team Fragments, a ground-breaking work has emerged.
Fragments thrusts viewers into the world of eight teenagers navigating anxiety, depression, bullying, family dysfunction, gender dysphoria, body dysmorphia, neurodivergence and more. Supported by the ACT Government through artsACT, the series aims to encourage candid discussions about mental health and wellbeing, to chip away at stigma and to encourage young people to check in with each other on a regular basis.
It’s been a joy, a challenge and a privilege to develop the eight distinct characters and stories, based very much on my own experiences, the lives of others in my world and the countless people who have shared their struggles with me in recent years. As a young person (in fact, even today), I’ve often landed on self-discoveries and insights by inhabiting the minds and words of others, both real and imaginary. When it comes to complex issues like mental health, it’s perhaps not surprising that many people prefer to broach the subject from a safe distance. The arts allow people to see themselves in a raw, powerful and often life-changing way by stepping inside the thoughts and emotions, fears and experiences of a fictional character. The fact that the various iterations of Fragments (stage play, young adult hybrid novel and web series) are resonating so strongly with young people and their families is immensely gratifying.
The pandemic has pushed mental health and wellbeing to the fore, with related issues now introduced as early as primary school years. Although this spotlight on mental health issues is welcome, we need to ensure that we don’t adopt a tokenistic response – a ‘tick the box’ approach that lulls us into a false belief that we are effecting real change at a community level. The fact that the most effusive praise for Fragments continues to be via DM confirms my suspicion that many people don’t feel comfortable talking about mental health publicly. We need to start talking about our mental health, not just about the need to talk about mental health. And that will take patience, tolerance, support, compassion, empathy and so much more.