The Humanization of Care Committee humanizes mental illness

HOC Mental Health
From left: Neomi Kronish, volunteer on the Humanization of Care (HOC) Committee; Marie-Claire Mailloux, member of the Donald Berman UP House, an organization that offers support in finding employment, housing, education and in improving wellness; Vivian Konigsberg, Co-Chair of the HOC Committee; Philip Silverberg, Founder of the Au Contraire Film Festival; Isabelle Bisaillon, a Planning, Programming and Research Officer in the Mental Health and Addiction Program Directorate.

On most days, the Nurses’ Lecture Hall at the Jewish General Hospital bears out its name, with health professionals lecturing staff on a wide range of medical topics. Recently, the venue was transformed into a theatre, and the films screened—while engaging—were no less instructive than clinical rounds.

Mental illness and its different manifestations was the subject of three animated shorts presented at the May 9 launch of the Humanization of Care Committee’s Mental Health Campaign. The campaign, a collaboration with the hospital’s Users’ Committee, aims to create awareness about mental illness within the hospital among staff, patients and family members.

On hand to present the films was Philip Silverberg, Founder of the Au Contraire Film Festival (ACFF), one of the leading mental health film festivals in the world. (The 6th edition of the ACFF will be held in Montreal October 16-19.)

“Few people are comfortable talking about mental health,” said Mr. Silverberg. “These films are not clinical, but they are meant to inspire, educate and challenge you.”

Mr. Silverberg explained that animation is an emerging tool in helping people with mental illness, noting that one of the animated films screened, Patients by Alex Widdowson, is partly autobiographical. The main character in this film experiences an episode of psychosis at a hospital. The healthcare workers rely on medication and tranquilizers to mask his symptoms, an approach, the patient laments, that is not helpful for his recovery.

“Film is a powerful medium for demystifying mental health, which is crucial because the stigma itself is a major barrier for life opportunities for those with mental illness,” says Mr. Silverberg. “Often the stigma is a major barrier to recovery, it helps to perpetuate the illness because it prevents people from seeking treatment.”

A three-minute animated film created by Jocie Juritz, Fractured, depicts the social anxiety a woman experiences during a night out at a club with friends. To convey the crippling impact of anxiety, the woman physically breaks into pieces when others make contact with her, whether it’s the bartender who hands her a drink or a clubber who tries to dance with her. Throughout the film, she appears distant and uncomfortable, even though she is with friends and surrounded by people having a fun time.

The last film shown, Leben! (Touching Life) by Carolin Färber, showcases the realities of a person living with obsessive compulsive disorder. The film follows lead character Ben as he struggles through everyday tasks such as cleaning and eating.

“These films sensitize the public to the idea that mental illness is not a fault or a weakness, but rather an illness,” said Mr. Silverberg.