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Stigma, recovery and hope: mental illness documentary to air on ABC

   
 


Mary Buller, production assistant for Mennonite Media, touches up Rosalynn Carter's makeup before she is interviewed for the "Shadow Voices" documentary at the Carter Center in Atlanta. More photos are available at http://shadowvoices.com/promotion/airdates.asp

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November 15, 2005
-by Melodie Davis

Harrisonburg, Va. — As a child, Kari Broadway tried to suffocate herself under pillows, hoping that someone would notice that something was wrong. She struggled with anorexia in junior high and high school and cut and burned herself to inflict more pain.

Broadway tells her story in a new documentary from Mennonite Media, Shadow Voices: Finding Hope in Mental Illness, airing Dec. 4, 2005, through Feb. 4, 2006, on ABC-TV (at the discretion of local ABC stations; check schedules at www.shadowvoices.com).

Today, Broadway, from Rock Valley, Iowa, has resumed her college studies in a pre-med program and still receives regular treatment for depression, hoping that this time she won’t have to drop out because of illness.

Though first embarrassed to even seek treatment, Broadway’s history indicates that if she does experience more acute episodes, she’ll recuperate, regroup and go on.

Rosalynn Carter, former first lady of the United States and longtime advocate on mental illness issues, and Dr. David Satcher, former surgeon general of the U.S., are among those speaking out in the documentary about the stigma still surrounding mental illness. They also champion new methods of rehabilitation and recovery.

Dr. William Anthony, director of the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at Boston University, is often considered the impetus behind the modern recovery movement for those with mental illness. Anthony also appears in the documentary and says “[Those struggling with mental illness] are the real heroes; they are the ones doing the heavy lifting to achieve some level of recovery.”]

Ramiro (Ray) Guevara, formerly head of the “In Our Own Voice” program for National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which encourages people with mental illness to speak out and tell their stories, said sharing his story almost normalized it.

“After awhile I said, ‘I don’t have a problem with having a mental illness. If you have a problem with that, I’m sorry, but I’m okay,’” Guevara said.

The documentary includes: a brief historical look at the involvement of conscientious objectors in mental hospitals during World War II (see www.alternativeservice.ca); the stigma and isolation still experienced today; the use of prisons as de facto mental institutions; health insurance issues; today’s focus on recovery and rehabilitation; and responses of faith communities.

Other people sharing their journeys with mental illness include Jerome Lawrence of Atlanta, and Lyn Legere of Boston.

Lawrence is an artist who struggles every day with schizophrenia but functions independently. He creates watercolor paintings praised by Carter, among many others, and works for a mental-health advocacy organization. Mennonite Media producers used his artwork as the basis for the graphic look of the documentary, and the program’s Web site.

Legere at one time medicated herself with heroin and alcohol and has lived for almost 50 years with mental illness. She recently earned her master’s degree at Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences of Boston University, and works in the office of disability services in supportive education there and as a consultant on the new Medicare prescription drug program.

Mennonite church members in the documentary include John Goshow, Wanda Lindsay, and Norman Loux at Penn Foundation, Souderton Pa.; Debbie Miller, Judy Herbold and Joy Miller from Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship; Beverly and Rhoda Steiner from Crown Centre Counseling in Orville, Ohio; and Steve Garboden, interim director of MMA, Goshen, Ind.

In any given year, about five to seven percent of adults have a serious mental illness. Approximately 35 percent of all people will experience a diagnosed brain disorder sometime during their lives, with mental illnesses causing the most disability among all illnesses in the United States, Canada and Western Europe, according to the 2003 U.S. President’s Commission on Mental Health Report.

Susan Gregg-Schroeder, an ordained United Methodist minister in San Diego, who kept her depression secret for two years, eventually broke silence and says in the program: “If you look out on a congregation on a Sunday morning, one in four families has a member struggling with a mental illness. That is something unfortunately that most of our churches do not address. Many of our parishioners are struggling in silence.”

Gregg-Schroeder founded a program called Mental Health Ministries, which educates faith communities on mental health issues.

When people with mental illness in institutions were released to community programs through the deinstitutionalization process of the 1960s, a hodgepodge of community systems attempted to meet their needs, with results varying greatly according to the locale. Spokesmen in the documentary say that today more people with mental illness are in the Los Angeles County and Riker’s Island (New York City) jails than any state hospital in the United States. About 300,000-400,000 people in prisons have mental illness, with double that number on parole or probation. Most are not considered dangerous to others and some are first picked up for charges of vagrancy or loitering, typical charges for the homeless.

Dr. Joyce Burland, creator of the Family to Family program for NAMI, said families and individuals are the ones who struggle with the jumbled and confusing system.

“As I deal and live with and love the families that we work with, what I see is valor. There is this huge effort of families picking up this broken system and trying to plug in where they can,” she said. “We are the shadow mental health system in America: unheralded and unsung.”

Burton Buller, producer for the program and director of Mennonite Media, said, “We want to challenge society to rethink the stigma that continues to follow diseases of the brain. We want the viewer to come away from the documentary saying, ‘I will never be able to look at or think about mental illness in the same way again.’”

Mennonite Media, in partnership with the Interfaith Broadcasting Commission and the Communications Commission of National Council of Churches, produced the program for ABC-TV's “Vision and Values” series.

Among other awards, the documentary Mennonite Media produced last year, Fierce Goodbye: Living in the Shadow of Suicide, won a “Gold Special Jury Award” from the WorldFest-Houston Film festival, the second to the top level of prizes.

A VHS will be available of the broadcast and a DVD with many more stories and supplemental material will be available after Dec. 15.

More images are available upon request or at the Shadow Voices Web site.


PSA: Shadow Voices to air on ABC-TV

Shadow Voices: Finding Hope in Mental Illness, a new documentary by Mennonite Media, will air Dec. 4, 2005, through Feb. 4, 2006, on ABC-TV stations (at their discretion). The program is an intimate, inside look at what it is like to live with a mental illness and how individuals and their families find their way through a tangle of medical, governmental, societal and spiritual issues.

Ten people from across the U.S. with mental illness tell their stories, plus many experts and advocates in the field add helpful perspectives. Experts include: former U.S. First Lady Rosalynn Carter; former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher; Dr. William Anthony of Boston University, founder of the modern rehabilitation movement; and Dr. Joyce Burland, founder of the Family to Family program for National Alliance on Mental Illness. There are eight Mennonites in the program including representatives from Penn Foundation in Souderton, Pa., and from Orville and Cincinnati, Ohio.

The program focuses on people’s experiences with stigma, recovery and rehabilitation, parity in insurance programs, and how faith communities can do a better job responding to those with mental illness. The program is produced by Mennonite Media in cooperation with the Interfaith Broadcasting Commission and the Communications Commission of National Council of Churches.

For more information on airing dates in your community, or to purchase a VHS of the program or DVD with many more stories and supplemental material (after Dec. 15), go to www.shadowvoices.com.