A call to recognize the person before the illnessMonday, March 04, 2013 by: Connie Carello
On Sunday evening the Shadows of the Mind, film festival officially came to a close.
Dedicated to both entertainment and education on mental health and addictions, the festival brought to the forefront the importance of mental health awareness and the need for a redefinition of mental illness.
In combination with several other exceptional films showcased this year, A Sister’s Call highlighted the need for social acceptance for those who may be experiencing a mental struggle.
The film received awards for best documentary in five different film festivals in the United States in 2012.
An audience of about 50 viewers at the Grand Theatre on Thursday evening was completely captivated by the film, a documentary exploring the life story of Call Richmond who died in 2012.
After he had gone missing for twenty years, his sister Rebecca Schaper attempted to offer her brother a normal life and set him on a path to recovery from his mental disability of paranoid schizophrenia.
Through a series of trials and tribulations, including periods in which Richmond was incorrectly diagnosed and prescribed medications that did not assist in his recovery, Schaper learned to cope with her own mental delusions and stress disorder brought on by a history of familial sexual abuse.
Both siblings also learned to accept their mother’s suicide after her own suffering from mental illness.
On their journey through a series of dark traumatic experiences, Richmond and Schaper share their compassionate relationship with the viewer in a manner that motivates social acceptance.
The emotional struggle to cope with their past encourages Schaper to confront her own painful memories to encourage a familial reconciliation that had viewers fighting back tears.
The film was approximately seventy-six minutes in length and was followed by a twenty minute discussion forum directed by the Canadian Mental Health Association Executive Director and Co-director of the film festival, Annette Katajamaki.
Special guest Paul Curtis, a local man who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, spoke about his condition in an attempt to be acknowledged as a “person” before his illness.
Lisa Carricato, a family support worker, could not have agreed more, “It really is about getting educated and learning that people who suffer from mental illness, are not their illness. They are people first and should not be referred to as their illness. Those who suffer from a variety of other illnesses or disorders do not introduce themselves as their illness. We need to get away from these labels.”
Katajamaki was thrilled with the conversation that followed the screening.
“The purpose of the festival is to get people talking and thinking about mental illness.” She said, “With screenings like A Sister’s Call, they normalize issues surrounding mental illness. It is almost like cancer twenty years ago when no one talked about it, it is about bringing the conversation out from the shadows and learning how these issues affect lives.”
According to Katajamaki, the discussion forum was an attempt to show the audience that the underlying mental issues identified in A Sister’s Call are prevalent and more common than expected.
“By listening to Paul, the audience can get the idea that this is real. A lot of people go through several different diagnoses, different medications, constant changing, and moving around. It shows that mental illness can affect anyone, it does not affect only one particular group, but goes across social economic groups, different levels of education,” said Katajamaki.
Bill McPherson, a social worker for thirty-two years and an assistant at the screening, spoke about the importance of the inclusion of A Sister’s Call in the festival in regards to the support agencies involved in caring for those struggling with mental illness.
“We need to use films like this in the festival to put mental health at the forefront. This type of film really puts in perspective that the person experiencing the illness is a person before the illness.” He said, “It highlights the difficulties the care givers and support team have to accept when trying to help others with a mental illness.”
Those that were in attendance struggled with the continuous “blows” the family experienced from childhood on into early adolescence.
One attendee commented, “I really didn’t think their story could get any worse and then as I continued to watch, I thought wow, I was wrong.”
For Sharon Burns, the film was more intense than she had originally expected but she was pleasantly surprised with her reaction, “I was shaken but at the end of it, the thing that stuck with me was that I learnt something, for me, it really was a learning experience.”
In addition to A Sister’s Call, the film entitled The Story of Luke, filmed in the local Sault Ste. Marie area, was included in the festival and shown at Galaxy Cinemas on Saturday morning with a similar intention to promote social awareness of mental illness.