Films for Mental Health

By Adrianna Buenviaje and Edward Lee

As dozens of students packed SMC’s Skybox Gym on Thursday, May 11, the big screen greeted them with a stark yet encouraging message on the main projector: “Everyone has a mental health story. Talking about it shouldn’t be taboo.”

Illustration by Diana Garcia.

Nonprofit organization, Art with Impact, in conjunction with SMC’s Wellness Center, held a workshop that utilized four engaging short films to teach students how to overcome the stigma surrounding mental illness. Leslie Poston, a facilitator from Art with Impact, hosted the event and encouraged discussions about students’ personal thoughts on mental health, wellness, illnesses, and the stigmas attributed to them. In between each film, students discussed their thoughts and feelings about each one.

The event began with a survey assessing the attendees’ understanding of mental health. Students then enjoyed complimentary pizza and sodas while the first movie, the Vancouver Film School’s “Fine,” started rolling. The film showed how the stigma of mental illness raised a barrier that prevented the lead protagonist from seeking help, repeating “I’m fine” — each assertion less convincing than the last.

This theme of stigma isolating victims from help ties into the second film, “The Blind Stigma,” from Stacy-Ann Buchanan Productions. This film explores the misconceptions of mental illness through the lens of the African American community and its prevalently negative views on mental health. For “Blind Stigma,” viewers noted that the views expressed in the film can lead to many African Americans suffering in silence when many of them need help the most.

“mEAT,” the third short film, focused more on eating disorders. In this film, a dancer, alone in her hotel room, fights desperately to take a bite of food from her plate. The dancer’s body reacts violently at even the slightest attempt at taking a bite. She suffers from hallucinations, uncontrollable shaking, and even does slight leg exercises in trying to calm down. The ending manages to be both realistic, yet optimistic. Although her healthy figure does not magically erase her constant struggle with the disorder, her continued perseverance to keep fighting portrays a difficult, but happier future.

In response to “mEAT,” Wendy Alvarez, one of the three panelists, connected with the film’s message on food. As a cancer survivor, Alvarez suffered from depression after she lost her best friend to the same disease. When attending therapy, Alvarez learned the importance of eating healthy, saying, “If you don’t eat, then therapy is going to get harder and harder.”

“The Letter,” from filmmaker Brian Ross, was the final film. It presents the painful position of a man about to end his life due to depression from a tragic loss. Yet finding a stray dog on the street leads him to its owner, who manages to pull him away from his isolation and loneliness. Ani Moradian, a student attendee, emphasized how important raising awareness of mental health was. “Everyone goes through these things – anxiety, stress in school. It’s good that they bring out these issues,” she said.

SMC’s Center for Wellness & Wellbeing helps students accommodate with issues ranging from academic stress to depression. It serves as a safe and reliable place for those reaching out for mental health support.

Engineering student Marco Krause appreciated Alvarez’s advice, learning that it’s “not trying to be like your old self, but try to be like your new self. I’ve grown to realize that the best way to achieve that happiness is to love yourself, how you are right now.