Tuesday, April 23, 2013

"Call Me Crazy": Lifetime's New Movie That Champions Hope and Resilience Around Mental Illness

*Warning: it was difficult to write this post without including a few small spoilers, but I hope you'll watch the whole film anyway.

On Saturday April 20th, Lifetime debuted "Call Me Crazy: A Five Film".  The film (which boasts a star-studded cast and director list) includes five short stories that examine the impact of mental illness from various perspectives.  Each story is named after the main character: "Lucy", "Grace", "Allison", "Eddie", and "Maggie".

In the first story, we are introduced to Lucy (played by Brittany Snow).  Lucy, a law student, has recently been admitted to a psychiatric institution after experiencing a schizophrenic episode.  She is struggling to see how she can live a "normal" life that includes relationships and a career.  Her clinician encourages her to finish law school because she has insight into something very few people understand (mental illness)- so who knows how many people she could help?

In "Grace", we meet a daughter who has been living with a bipolar mother for her entire life.  Grace is played beautifully by Sarah Hyland from "Modern Family"- I loved seeing her in a dramatic role.  We see the "highs" and "lows" of her mother's condition.  We also see the devastating impact that it has on Grace's life when it is not treated.  Grace often plays the role of caretaker- making sure her mother is safe.  We see her struggle to have her own life aside from her mother's illness.

"Allison" offers the viewers a twist.  She plays Lucy's younger sister.  So we step back from Lucy's view and we see how mental illness has affected her entire family.  Allison's childhood, her sense of safety, her relationship with her parents- were all changed as a result of her sister's illness.  She has bottled up a lot of anger and finds it difficult to support her sister through her recovery.

"Eddie" introduces the only male main character.  He is suffering from severe depression.  He has withdrawn from his wife and his friends.  He has stopped receiving help from his therapist.  We watch his wife intervene after discovering that he may be thinking about suicide.

Finally, "Maggie" introduces topics that (unfortunately) are all too common these days- post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and military sexual trauma among our returning veterans.  Maggie (played by Jennifer Hudson) was victimized during her time in the Army and its lasting impacts are threatening her ability to have a healthy relationship with her family.  Here we get another update on Lucy- she is now a lawyer and is representing Maggie in court.

While each story stands on its own, Lucy's story is woven throughout "Allison" and "Maggie" as well.  I really liked this strategy.  Not only because I became invested in her character during the first story...but also because seeing her evolve over time helped to demonstrate some key themes from this film- hope and resilience.

As Lucy says to Maggie: "I am living proof". [Of what?] "That there is hope".  In court, Lucy reminds Maggie's judge that having mental illness does not mean that you are a bad person or a bad mother.  She also reminds him about the importance of social support, "it is nearly impossible to get well alone".  Even though we see all of these characters at their lowest point- there is still hope that they can feel better, have strong relationships, and contribute positively to the world.

It seems fitting that Brittany Snow's character delivers these messages about hope and resilience, as she is a strong advocate for them in real life.  Together with the Jed Foundation and MTV, she founded Love is Louder.  Love is Louder is an inclusive movement that amplifies messages of love and support to combat negative messages resulting from bullying, loneliness, and stigma.  She has also publicly shared her own battles with anorexia, depression, and self harm.

As a health educator, I highly recommend this film as a resource for discussing mental illness, suicide, stigma, social support, and help-seeking.  Since each story is approximately 20 minutes, they can be broken down into segments or watched all together.  This film is a great example of Entertainment Education, which is an area of public health that acknowledges the strong impact that television and movies play in educating the public about health issues.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental illness, please reach out:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255)

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