"Lift the Mask" Screening Breaks Stigma Around Mental Illness

From psychology students and film majors to parents, the Science Complex (SCI) 140 lecture hall overflowed with an audience eager to view the mental health documentary “Lift the Mask” on Sep. 5, days away from National Suicide Prevention Week.

The screening, co-hosted by Santa Monica College (SMC)’s Active Minds Club and the Quell Foundation, focused on bringing stories of mental illness to light in order to help eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health. The documentary focused on six participants who shared their own experiences with mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, depression, and ADHD. Not only was the screening meant as a stigma reduction activity, but it was also intended to be an educational experience for its audience.

“I think the biggest takeaway from watching [the documentary] was how many bits of misinformation the film was able to correct,” said Lisa Golden, project manager for SMC’s Mental Health Grant and co-advisor for Active Minds.

“It’s truly important for people to learn more about things that are traditionally scary and mysterious," Golden said. "I appreciate all the opportunities in the film to correct myths and falsehoods.”

Much of the film shines a light on various forms of treatment for individuals, including electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and medication.

Following the screening, members of the audience were invited to a panel discussion that included Renee Wilk, executive director of the Quell Foundation, Tanya Griffiths, a participant in the documentary, Dr. Danilo Donoso PsyD., SMC staff psychologist, and Camille Horrigan-Slajus, Student Wellness ambassador and president of SMC's Active Minds club.

During the discussion, students and parents had an open conversation with the panel on various mental health topics. A major theme in the discussion was the importance of cultural representation in films about mental health. Communities of color often have taboos surrounding mental health conversations and disparities in emotional support compared to white communities.

“Watching the film, I felt very connected to everybody," said Yesenia Diaz. "However, I felt it could have been more open about different cultures, backgrounds, and races.”

Director Wilk agreed with Diaz's sentiment, recalling stories of the documentary participants with similar struggles. However, she felt that this further served the intention of the film itself.

“That is the point of this film,” explained Wilk. “To encourage the conversation.”

Parents were curious as to how to support a child with mental illness, a topic that Griffiths is well-versed in. As shown in the documentary, Griffiths is the mother of teenager Claire Griffiths, who was diagnosed at a young age with bipolar disorder. She, as well as other members of the panel, encouraged therapy as an option for children. Griffiths emphasized the importance of compassion and humanization.

“It’s helpful to just listen and sit with them instead of trying to fix them,” said Griffiths.

“Lift the Mask” is the first part of a documentary produced by the Quell Foundation, an organization dedicated to reducing the amount of suicides, overdoses, and incarcerations of people with mental illness. Wilk went on to explain that the second part of the series intends to provide a safe space for stories from the first-responder community, who have the sixth highest suicide rate by occupation.

SMC offers a wide range of resources for people in regard to mental and emotional health, not just during National Suicide Prevention Week, but all year-long. The Center for Wellness and Wellbeing offers counseling services, consultations, and therapy sessions to students. Programs such as Adelante and Black Collegians also offer their own in-program therapists available to students.