At some point during Help & Hope's mental health event last week, I had a moment to mentally step back and notice that we had a robust conversation happening about mental illness with really thoughtful questions from event participants, an active chat window, and sensitive and informative responses from our panelists.
We'd been invited to preview PBS' new documentary about mental illness and were excited to talk about the interesting insights and evolution of thinking that we saw in the video clips we had been given access to. But we didn't have any idea how others would respond to the show.
Looking back, I'd say that, if PBS had been looking to start conversations around mental health through their work (which I imagine they were), then they'd achieved their goal, at least from our perspective as preview event hosts.
To be fair, I think many of the people in Help & Hope's virtual program came with their own knowledge and experience about mental health and a real sense of advocacy for creating change on issues like access to treatment, stigma and the language we use, and how to talk with others about sensitive topics like mental illness.
So the conversation flowed easily.
We also had a panel of experts present with representatives from Child & Family Services, High Point Treatment Center, Greater New Bedford Suicide Prevention Coalition, and Samaritans Southcoast.
The video clips we showed were focused on individuals experiencing PTSD, obsessive compulsive disorder, and depression and showed the evolution of people's thinking about their own illness and treatment and the decisions they made to talk openly with others.
Ryan, for example, a veteran and firefighter with PTSD, talked about his healing journey and how he resisted getting help because of his own self-stigma around mental illness. Initially, he said, he'd expected to be treated and done - his trauma response resolved so he could return to work. Instead, he came to learn that his trauma work would be a long-term process.
“I have a better understanding now in that it's never going to go away. It will always be there,” Ryan says in the documentary. “My reaction to it has changed and I think that has been the most powerful thing for me. My PTSD doesn't own me as much if I can control my reaction to it.”
Interested in learning more? Check out the Mysteries of Mental Illness, a four-part series that premieres tomorrow night at 9 p.m. on WGBH. It's worth watching.
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