When a theatre company has the innovative title I Can’t Believe we’re not Better, you can guess their work will be inspired. “Utterly Nutterly and Psychos on Safari were other names suggested,” recalls founder, Artistic Director and Drama Therapist Gerald Maiello. They all sum up in a tongue-in-cheek way what the company is about – challenging perceived views of mental illness and getting the message over through entertainment.

The group started off as part of a therapy programme at Watford General Hospital’s Shrodells Unit. Now, eight years on, the members are dedicated and their missions ambitious. Anyone connected with the mental health services, whether they are a patient, relative or involved through work can join.

Their latest project. and the largest to date, The Section, evolved from material gathered in workshops and then was developed further.

“Most of the humour came from things people actually said,” says cast member Rob Doran. “The play shows how things work in the mental health system for patients and doctors – a lot is right on the nail, although exaggerated.” The story gives a shocking but funny view. In the plot, Bob, the Evil Janitor, suffers a case of mistaken identity when Patient John slips him a pink tea special, sending Bob on a hilarious journey through the world of mental health provision.

The driving force behind The Section, Ethel Keith Ewing, has a multi-faceted role of producer, designer and sound engineer. And she knows the subject matter inside out, having been sectioned herself five times.

Ethel is one of a steadily increasing number to suffer from mental health problems in the UK. Every year more than 4,000 people take their own lives and over 250,000 people are admitted into psychiatric hospitals.

Mental health problems can be due to chemical imbalances in the mind, social influences or upbringing, as well as a result of post-natal depression, grief or illnesses such as a stroke.

The fast pace at which we exist today doesn’t help. Ethel has come through and out the other side, but the ride has been rough.

Plucky, a perfectionist and a survivor, her experience has strengthened her, and, she says, is the main reason she is good at her job.

“I have the unique ability to think negative/positive so I get rid of problems before I start a drama project,” says Ethel. “I analyse everything in advance and see things that no-one else can see.”

Ethel’s issues go back twelve years, “I went nuts when I was 25. I smoked cannabis in my late teens then got involved with the voluntary project Operation Raleigh, travelled the world and realised I had wasted 18 years of my life.”

The theatre company acts as a welcome support system for individuals on the road to recovery.

“It helps self expression and encourages confidence” says Gerald.

Ethel spent four and a half years in silence, shut away from society and friends, before getting involved.

“I was extremely distressed when I first came. I helped on sound and would operate a tape recorder and say nothing. But I was taking everything in. I was offered a week’s sound engineering course at RADA and now I have a full blown PA system and run a show.”

Rob, who was one of the original members of the company, skipped several years, then re-joined, bringing music and lyrics to the current production.

“Working on this play has made me feel confident for the first time,” he says “I put a bit of me into the character and it has made me act differently in real life. Being in the group is like doing variety - you can turn your hand to anything.”

Theatre is a very powerful way of saying ‘this is who we are’,” adds Gerald.

It’s also ideal for passing on a message, in this case a vital one.

“I Can’t Believe we’re not Better’s work conveys to folk that mental illness is part of life and not the end of the world.”

In The Section, it is done in a fresh and amusing way.

The Section performed by I Can’t believe we’re not Better and produced by Ethel Keith Ewing is at The Pump House Theatre on Friday October 10 at 3.30pm, free; 7.30pm, £3.

Details: 07528 229354 or email: wmhd@watfordmuseum.org.uk

Exhibition: 11am - 4.30pm with charity stands and history of local mental health services; Open Mic acoustic session: 1pm to 3pm. The event, run in conjunction with Watford Museum and supported by Watford Borough Council, marks World Mental Health Day

Details: www.mhf.org.uk/