The soon-to-be released documentary Healing Voices goes a long way to healing our fear of people commonly labeled as "schizophrenic," "bipolar," and "psychotic." The message of this film is that understanding and love--not fear and stigmatizing labels--are what people who have experienced these altered states need.
Writer and director PJ Moynihan explores two question: What are we talking about when we talk about "mental illness"? What is truly helpful?
Over a five year period, Healing Voices follows Oryx, Jen, and Dan, all previously diagnosed with serious mental illness. Oryx, Jen, and Dan are each very different personalities but all are articulate, insightful, and fascinating in describing their return journeys from extreme states of consciousness to satisfying human relationships and meaningful work.
Healing Voices is not afraid to discuss aspects of our humanity that routinely terrify many of us, and Moynihan is also not afraid to make his movie fun and joyful--including playful music and animations. What is striking about Healing Voices is its combination of boldness and humility--its boldness challenging political correctness and its humility about its own assertions.
Unlike other documentaries that are critical of standard psychiatric treatment, Moynihan does not have an anti-drug agenda but instead seeks the truth regardless of where that might lead. Healing Voices confronts the damage done by the fear of our humanity and the fear of truth.
In 2013, the general public finally began hearing some truths--hopeful truths--about people who experience extreme emotional states, including voice hearers. Prior to this, ex-patients and dissident mental health professionals who attempted to depathologize and normalize extreme emotional states were mocked by the psychiatry establishment and not taken seriously by the mainstream media.
However, in 2013, Eleanor Longden's TED Talk, The Voices in My Head, went viral (ultimately with over three million views). Longden--diagnosed with schizophrenia, hospitalized, drugged, and told that she would be better off having cancer than schizophrenia because cancer could be more easily cured--describes her recovery, which involved letting go of the fear of her voices.
Also in 2013, as I reported in the Huffington Post ("NIMH Director Rethinks Standard Psychiatric Treatment for Schizophrenia"), the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, based on two major studies, concluded that people diagnosed with schizophrenia and other psychoses are a diverse group who need diverse approaches. NIMH director Thomas Insel acknowledged: "For some people, remaining on medication long-term might impede a full return to wellness."
So, between Londgen's TED Talk and the NIMH's rethinking, the time is ripe for a full-length documentary that fearlessly examines a topic that for so long we have been socialized to be frightened of.
The producers of Healing Voices have announced an innovative plan to release the film via community screening partners in a coordinated one-night global event on April 29, 2016.
Moynihan tells us, "What we refer to as 'mental illness' in our culture is widely discussed and debated, but not very well understood. These screenings are an opportunity for a range of demographic audiences to come together and engage in a dialogue about a very complex social issue." Moynihan describes his plan as a "grassroots, non-theatrical release."
The documentary is a must see for anyone who has been touched by mental health issues in their life. For more information about the film and how to be involved in its release, see http://www.HealingVoicesMovie.com.
Bruce E. Levine, a practicing clinical psychologist, writes and speaks about how society, culture, politics and psychology intersect. He is the author of Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite. His Web site is brucelevine.net