Nancy: Years ago I did a documentary on Community Health Clinics and saw the tremendous need for Community Mental Healthcare. There were so many people out there wanting help but not finding it. Then a year ago Ken Verdoia, KUED's Director of Production suggested I tackle the issue. So I jumped at the chance.
Sally: I wanted to be part of a social justice documentary, and (for years) to work with Producer, Nancy Green. Reading Pete Earley's amazing book, Crazy had quite the affect on me as well.
Nancy: We knew we wanted to look at the difficulty accessing mental health care. Early on in my research I went to a screening of PBS's Minds On The Edge, a program about severe mental illness and the ethical and legal challenges surrounding it. I remember being amazed to learn that so many people with serious mental disorders end up in jail or prison. So Sally and I began exploring the connections between the criminal justice system and mental illness. I was also moved by the discussion after the screening where the parents of a schizophrenic child were at their wit's end trying to figure out how to get help for their son. They didn't qualify for Medicaid, but their insurance didn't cover the care their son needed. It was heartbreaking to hear their situation.
Sally: Of course... knowing very little about mental illness, I learned about desperation: the desperation of families in crisis, the desperation of mentally ill people suffering in prisons, jails, and on the streets. There are many people suffering silently--battling their psychosis and major depression while working and performing daily responsibilities, just trying to get through their day. Many experience the loneliness and isolation of stigma. I also learned of the hundreds of middle class families struggling to afford medication and treatment; people who live with and challenge what they describe as, "A broken system."
Nancy: There were so many things I was surprised to learn. But I think the aspect that most surprised me was the difficulty of navigating the mental healthcare and criminal justice systems. Even the people who work in the courts, jails, clinics and hospitals often don't know how to get people the help they need. Everyone is frustrated.
Sally: Sitting in a public elementary school and observing children with mental illness. These kids are, for the most part, separated from the rest of the school, and although the Behavioral Therapy Unit and general education teachers work hard to create an understanding and collaboration between the student groups, stigma, and branding of "Special Ed" students is there. And then the teenagers--hearing stories of the desperation teenagers feel socially as they attempt to hide their mental illness to avoid stigma and ridicule. This is a tough, tough time for kids and teens as it is, but to have a mental illness as a teenager... as Camille Houston (diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder) said, "Being a teenager with a mental illness is ridiculous!"
Nancy: There were many memorable moments, but one that comes to me right now is sitting in the Salt Lake County Jail in a classroom and hearing the guys open up and tell some intimate stories about their struggles with mental illness and addiction. One guy was crying because he realized that his three-year-old daughter was alone right now because he and his wife both were in jail because of their meth use. There were other stories about struggling with schizophrenia and hearing voices and the difficulty of being different. I was struck by the insight some of the inmates had, how much they were willing to share and how they really supported each other.
Sally: Obtaining permission from the State and parents to interview kids/minors. Parents did not want their children's stories exposed on television. I remember sitting in a coffee shop and talking to a teenage boy with Bipolar Disorder. He was eager and willing to tell his story, but his mother believed if it was discovered her son had a mental illness, it might interfere with his ability to make friends and get a job. She had him cancel an interview with us, and I understand her fears.
Nancy: Like Sally said, finding people to share their stories was difficult. And I think trying to take such a large issue and distill it down into manageable stories was really challenging. The other surprising and challenging aspect for me was confronting my own beliefs about people with mental illness. I didn't realize that I had a lot of preconceptions about how people with illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder would act or think. I remember being surprised that someone with schizophrenia could hold down a job. Even though I thought I had an open mind, like most Americans, I still somehow looked at people with mental illness as being "less than" or "defective". It was challenging to have to look at myself and own up to my own stigma surrounding mental illness.
Sally: The film definitely shaped itself. As we obtained more stories, and more information, we realized that not only is there a strong connection between severe mental illness and the criminal justice system, but it's critical that children receive diagnosis and treatment at an early age. We also learned that community based wrap around services for children, teens, and adults absolutely works, and promises quality of life for those suffering with mental illness.
Sally: People who suffer with mental illness want what we all want--a job, financial security, education, positive relationships with friends and family, and love. Imagine how difficult it would be to strive for these things when you're hearing voices in your head, or feeling physically and mentally unstable because your medication isn't working. Imagine losing opportunities and dreams because you're in a downward spiral of psychosis and you can no longer afford medication and treatment. Imagine being a teenager and trying to hide your illness as you're walking down the halls of your high school. Imagine the everyday struggle parents face as they wrestle with the unpredictable nature of their child's illness. I hope this documentary brings to viewers some compassion and understanding to the lifetime challenges people with mental illness face--the day to day struggle of those who live with mental illness. I also hope this documentary sends a clear message; there are programs out there that work!
Nancy: Exactly. There are programs that work. As Pete Earley in the documentary says, "we know what to do, let's do it". I hope people realize that this issue affects all of us on many levels. It hits us on a financial level. It's ten times more expensive to treat someone with severe mental illness in jail than it is to give them assertive community treatment. If we could focus funding on early intervention and community treatment, we could, as Sherri Wittwer says, "alter the whole trajectory of our system." Also, how we treat people going through a vulnerable time in their lives truly speaks to how we define ourselves as a society. I hope people walk away from this film thinking about what kind of society they want to shape, what kind of a world do they want to live in - one that shuns people with severe mental illness to the outskirts of our community, or one that embraces them?