The Common Thread (AUS) is a documentary web-series presented by acclaimed short-form filmmaker Darius Devas. It examines the lives of young Australians experiencing mental illness through powerful personal stories.

Director and producer Darius Devas spoke with Melbourne Webfest, explaining how he approached and presented topics surrounding mental health, with the goal to create conversation and share perspectives from people across the Australian continent.

What was your greatest challenge creating the series?

I think the greatest challenge in making the series was raising the finance, a boring answer but it was very difficult and came so close to not getting up. So I’m grateful that it did!

Sharing the perspectives of people who live with mental ill-health is key to encouraging others to speak up…what was the process like when approaching people to share their personal stories?

I think there is an art to truly listening to someone and creating a safe space to share. Through that presence, I believe is what allowed the participants to be so vulnerable and honest. It was a varied experience as well because some of the participants were organised a long time in advance but the majority were cold canvassed off the street. It was a really terrifying experience shooting that way for me because it was like a lucky dip, you never knew what you were going to get. But almost everyone who took up our invitation shared something that was a valuable contribution to the series.  

What would you like the audience to take away from the series?  

In the big picture, if the series could make one person reconsider thoughts of suicide, the project will be a success beyond measure. In a general sense, I wanted people to relate to at least one of the participant’s experiences, which is why I wanted such a big cross-section of individuals. So that if they were going through similar experiences, the first thing they would feel is less alone and then if they were inspired to take action using the tools that the participants shared that would be incredible.  

The Common Thread Introduction

In your opinion, have views on mental health changed across the public over the last ten years? What work needs to be done to continue normalising mental health?  

Things are definitely shifting but there is a long way to go. People like to use the language and the buzzwords, but I find there is still a big barrier in being able to show up for those struggling in a meaningful way. I think the media can and is playing a big part in both educating and normalising it but it is also up to individuals to learn and support their communities, that is where the most significant shift will take place.

What commonalities or differences did you notice between people who lived in the metropolitan and regional areas you visited?

I get asked that question a lot, to be honest, the most revealing thing is how completely non-discriminatory mental health conditions are. Nobody gets a hall pass on that! Specifically, a lack of education in regional areas and a lack of support options. And in the cities, it is just amazing to watch how isolated you can be and cut off amongst millions of people.  

Overall, how long have you been working on your series?  

I really started actively developing the series in 2018. So in the scheme of things, it was a relatively fast turn around.  

What was the most valuable thing you learnt or gained from making The Common Thread? 

To value my life, to be grateful for what I have, trying to always remember to not take things for granted. It all sounds very obvious and “self-helpy” but it really is true. Witnessing so many people’s lives turned upside down by their struggles and experiencing coming through my own has really made me try to focus on being positive.

I was also so inspired by the courage all these young people had to show up for themselves. It is not easy to really meet your mental health struggles head-on. It takes daily commitment and so it was amazing to see them taking that step and sharing that with the world through the series.