Louis Theroux has finally returned to our screens with By Reason of Insanity. This time our favourite interviewer is probing deep into the minds of psychiatric patients and the doctors and nurses treating them. His famous unbiased style allows the patients of Ohio’s state psychiatric hospitals to open up to him and give us a fascinating insight into mental health.
In contrast to some of his other documentaries, such as Weird Weekends and The Most Hated Family in America, By Reason of Insanity gives a candid depiction of mental health which is, for a lot of the programme, heart-breaking.
We are introduced to Eric who has not been outside in over 14 years and is confined to the facility. As ever, Louis is not afraid to ask potentially upsetting or provoking questions: “Fourteen years? And you still haven’t made it outside?” just as Eric is being securely locked into his section of the building. We also meet Judith who teaches Louis some card tricks and then it is later revealed that she perceives herself to be Jesus Christ, which Louis notes “didn’t come up in the card game”.
Many of the patients that Louis meets are criminally insane and are in the hospital as a result of committing serious crimes; yet again, Louis is not afraid to ask the big questions. When meeting Jonathan, a patient who had murdered his father, Louis asks, “did you love your father?” something that, in all the years Jonathan has been in treatment, his doctors had apparently not dared to ask.
In this investigative manner, Louis reveals the humanity of many of the patients who are so often overlooked as a result of their illness. Despite the seriousness of much of the documentary, in classic Louis Theroux style, there are moments of bizarreness as he complains about the lack of caffeine available within the hospital. Strangely, he does not seem out of place with Jonathan in this moment.
The first of a two part programme, Louis Theroux is back on the BBC and providing a truly sensitive insight into mental health, but at the same time, asking the questions often left untouched.
Photograph: Andrew Crowley