Mental illness impacts the lives of at least one in four adults and one in 10 children, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. They’ve done the math, noting that 60 million Americans are affected. Yet mental illness gets a lot less attention than other health issues.
Depression is to autism what pancreatic cancer is to breast cancer in terms of media coverage. They’re all devastating, but society focuses too often on a few conditions to the exclusion of others. It’s a painful reality for families whose loved ones live with the equivalent of medical minorities. So I’m always eager to spread the word about lesser tackled topics.
There’s an affiliate of Mental Health America in Rochester, New York that’s working with other organizations to raise awareness of diverse mental health issues next week through something called “Reel Mind.” It’s a “theatre and film series about mental illness,” now in its fourth season. Originally a film festival, this year’s “Reel Mind” has been expanded to include an art exhibit and theater performance.
Series selections are designed to “address the social stigma of mental illness and offer the message that recovery is possible.” Each is followed by a discussion with experts in the mental health field. Series co-director Ruth Cowing says their Q & A sessions are well attended. “With this, almost everyone stays in their seat.”
“A lot of people come with their own stories or struggles of family members and hope to find information,” says Cowing. This year’s offerings cover schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease and autism. The “Reel Mind” film series takes place May 8 through June 26. Perhaps those in Arizona who can’t attend will consider creating something similar for families in the Southwest.
“The Reel Mind” series opens with a documentary titled “Crazy Art,” which “tells the story of three talented artists with schizophrenia as they search for identity, acceptance and recovery.” The “study in hope” also tackles a bit of art history, considering how artists like Van Gogh created brilliant works while in the throws of psychiatric symptoms. The screening will be accompanied by an art show called “Metamorphosis” curated by the Creative Wellness Center.
A “Reel Mind” fundraiser taking place May 18 includes a Blackfriars Theatre production of “Grey Gardens,” a musical that considers the lives of two well-connected socialites who become East Hampton’s most notorious recluses. “Grey Gardens” features book by Doug Wright, music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie. I remember listening to the music many years ago after my daughter Lizabeth checked the CD out from our local library.
“Reel Mind” presents “Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter,” an Oscar-nominated documentary about “the various stages of a mother’s Alzheimer’s disease and the evolution of a daughter’s response to the illness,” on May 22. The film’s been described as “a life-affirming exploration of family relations, aging, change, the meaning of memory and love.”
A film titled “The Boy Inside: A Journey Into Autism” will be screened June 12 as part of this year’s “Reel Mind.” Filmmaker Marianne Kaplan followed a year in the life of her 12-year-old son Adam, who has a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome — capturing his desperate attempts to fit in amidst “bullies, insensitive classmates and parents with at-times frayed nerves.”
This year’s “Reel Mind” series concludes with a screening of “Search for Sanity” plus a preview of “Echo of the Past.” The first is a 1954 TV special filmed inside the Hudson River State Hospital, while the latter is a work in progress focusing on the former Rochester State Hospital. Together they reflect “shifting attitudes towards mental illness” during the “mass deinstitutionalization of the first half of the 20th century.”
Too few community supports were in place at the time, leading to large numbers of people with mental illness facing homelessness, unemployment, criminalization and other outcomes we should no longer tolerate. When series like “Reel Mind” help us increase and improve supports for people living with all types of brain disorders, they do us all a great service. Every brain is important, and every person matters.
Note: Explore the works and words of Vincent Van Gogh at the “Van Gogh Alive” exhibit through June 17 at the Arizona Science Center in Phoenix
Coming up: Sinews, saguaro and starlight