The Filmmakers Voice

First Blog Post

Thank you for checking out the Voices website! This film has been our passion project for the last several years and in order to better connect with our community of viewers, we’ve created this blog so that we can periodically share our thoughts and provide updates. Joining our email list, at the bottom of this page, is another great way to learn more about the film.

Thanks again for your interest and more to come in the future!

- The Voices Team

Stigma- Our Strategy

When we set out to make this film, we had no idea what we were going to end up with. We knew that we wanted our featured individuals and their stories to be the focus— as opposed to commentary from experts— because we believed that the simplicity of telling one’s personal narrative had the power to address the root of stigma and change the way people thought and felt about mental illness. But the content of these stories were an unknown. After talking to dozens of people on the street and in our communities for almost two years, we ended up with the three amazing people and families showcased in Voices. Other posts on the website explore these three stories in greater detail, but in this blog I wanted to focus on our film’s strategy for addressing the critical issue of stigma that commonly and unjustly follows persons diagnosed with mental illnesses.

As the son of a mother with schizophrenia, I’ve long felt that if everyone could view people living with mental illness the way that I viewed my mother, stigma would not possess the power that it does. Growing up, my mom was the most loving, kind, caring person I knew. But I also realized that like most people, she was also sometimes very angry and even frightening, particularly during the height of her paranoia and untreated psychosis. These seemingly conflicting perspectives informed my conceptualization of my mother from a very early age.

The reason why this was important was because rather than a black and white, all good or all bad view, I saw her and her mental illness for the grey, nuanced, complicated issue that it was. It often seems that the root of stigma thrives in environments devoid of open discussion and thoughtfulness, adhering to overly simplistic generalizations of what are usually complex issues. Nowhere is this truer than in the field of mental health, with the brain being the single most complex and least understood organ of our body.

Throughout medical school and psychiatric training, I was struck by how prevalent stigma was even in the medical establishment and began to more openly share my personal experiences with my mother. I reasoned that if I wasn’t comfortable talking about the schizophrenia that so meaningfully impacted my family, it was hypocritical of me to expect others to be comfortable discussing the issue. Drawing parallels with the anti-stigma campaigns for cancer and AIDS in decades past, it seemed clear that the path to societal acceptance was paved by the open communication of personal narratives, which at times are heart-wrenching and at other times soul-lifting.

Around the same time, I noticed that news stories were increasingly highlighting tragedies involving people with mental illness, oftentimes people who committed violent acts as a result of not receiving necessary treatment. In the aftermath, well-intentioned mental health advocates would frequently cite that fact that people with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators, with anti-stigma campaigns focusing on primarily positive stories of recovery that depicted mental illness as the treatable condition that it is.

While I knew these disparate presentations of mental illness and mental health were both valid, they presented a messaging conflict that could be interpreted as nuanced to those familiar with mental health, and downright confusing to those who are not. Naturally, this led to the question of what would happen if stigma were addressed not from the two, black and white ends of this messaging spectrum, but rather from the middle. Exploring the answer to this question led to the premise for Voices, which is at its core a film about a few people with mental illness on the more serious end of the severity spectrum, courageously told by “insiders” from the middle of the messaging spectrum.

- Gary Tsai, MD; Producer & Director