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‘This is just the beginning’: the documentary maker using family experience to challenge health inequalities 

Published: 14 March 2024

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A woman at an art easel

Pauline in the film Pip, Pop and a Pandemic

It’s almost 5 years since Tracy Willits began making a film about people with schizophrenia and their loved ones. As a Senior Lecturer in Media Production at York St John University and with a background in health documentaries, Tracy Willits knew that she was right person to tell the story of her sister-in-law Pauline and others living with similar challenges.  

The resulting? film is Pip, Pop and a Pandemic, which follows Pauline and her partner George who both have schizophrenia. They are seen navigating new love in later life alongside a battle for mental health support during lockdown.  

The documentary also tells the story of musician Ed who used to be in a well-known pop band in the eighties but now cares for his mentally ill wife Catarina whom he loves dearly. As the film unfolds Ed reveals his coping mechanisms - music, classic TV and a dependence on alcohol. 

Tracy’s impactful documentary has been shown in Parliament, submitted as evidence to the Covid-19 inquiry and is supported by major mental health charities.  

It has now premiered publicly for the first time at a screening event supported by York St John University’s Institute for Health and Care Improvement. The premiere also featured a panel discussion led by York Central MP Rachael Maskell.  

Quotes from panel members 

Rachael Maskell, York Central MP said:  

“This documentary gives a deep insight into the funding issues faced by those with serious mental health conditions and I thank Tracy and all at York St John University, where so much work is being done to research and educate people about mental health.  

“I hope that together we can take action to ensure that we get a just system that works for everybody who needs that level of support as part of our wider society.” 

Dr Dan Cottingham Primary Care CRUK GP for the Humber and North Yorkshire Cancer Alliance and GP in York. He said: 

“This inspiring documentary observes the inequalities seen for people with severe mental illness when going about their daily lives on the background of the pandemic. The changes with PIP and the stress this adds to the patients and their carers is obvious, but the additional pressures from the pandemic including anti-social behaviour and isolation are marked. Essential viewing for all those involved with severe mental health care be it social, health or system planning.  

“As a society we need to do better!”   

Dr Jed Boardman, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:  

Pip, Pop and a Pandemic is a powerful portrayal of the reality that many people living with severe mental illness face every day. The documentary highlights the heartbreaking effects of a benefits system that promotes penalties and sanctions.  

“This system clearly discriminates against people with mental illness, something that cannot be tolerated. The Government must fully revise its current approach and act to create a system that is fair for all.  

“Our benefits system must be a supporter and enabler if we are to improve people's quality of life.”     

Alyson Scott, York Mind CEO said: 

"At York Mind we have seen an increase in demand for our, already very busy, services.  

“If you are struggling with serious mental illness, then other issues such as a lack of income understandably become even harder to deal with. And we see people whose mental wellbeing is severely impacted by lack of access to housing, struggling to pay bills and having to rely on foodbanks to eat. It negatively impacts the individual, their family, their friends and ultimately wider society" 

Next steps 

Tracy quote: “My thanks to everyone who joined myself and the rest of the panel for the premiere event. It was moving and powerful to see so much goodwill and feel appetite for change, as we know society needs to do better for people like Pauline, George, Ed and Caterina. 

“It’s a privilege to share the film and get their stories out there but this is just the beginning. I’ve presented my call to action to parliamentarians and am working with mental health charities and the Institute for Health and Care Improvement to drive this agenda forward...... by developing a strategy to reduce the health inequalities and the large gap in life expectancy for people with serious mental illness. 

“Using the Call to Action as a starting point our next step is to consider exploring additional insight to support improvements and change that could help address these inequalities. The aim of this work is to test potential interventions locally which then could be shared and transferred into a wider national narrative.” 

You can get in touch with Tracy via email at

Read the full call to action Pip Pop Call to Action.

Pip, Pop and a Pandemic is now available to watch on YouTube.

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