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The Gift of Mental Illness | Documentary Idea

by Maurice Edward J
(Hobbs, NM, USA)

Most documentaries I have seen regarding mental illness (at least in the Western world) have either been very negative or purely academic. Many doctors like to dope their patients up with a cocktail of prescription medications ranging from anti-depressant to psychotropic drugs. This often fixes the symptoms and not the problem. In many cases, medications will add more symptoms. Most importantly, many patients are told they will have to be on medications for the rest of their lives since there is no "cure" to disorders such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and etc.

But there is another part of the world that looks at mental illness much differently than what I described above. There is a tribe in Burkina Faso and Ghana, Dagara people, that believe that mental illness is more so of a gift. In fact, they believe that it is the birthing of a healer.

They also believe that people suffering from mental illnesses are conduits between two world. Sufferers may hear or see things that no one else can because they are merely conduits between two worlds. This is gift.

The problem is in many nations like the United States, Canada and the UK, incorporating this kind of belief system may seem more like quackery than alleviation. A shaman or healer by the name of Malidoma Patrice Somé is an African healer from the Dagara tribe. His first visit to the psychiatric ward in the United States alarmed him. To learn more about Somé and the Dagara people's customs and beliefs system(s) visit http://disinfo.com/2014/06/shaman-sees-mental-hospital/

The basis of this documentary is to show that mental illness is not necessarily viewed as a bad thing. In fact, I've met many people in various religious groups who believe that people suffering from mental illness are possessed and/or have "the devil" in them. Not that I am discounting anyone's belief system, but I want to show a more positive aspect of mental illness and correlate it with a spiritual understanding that most people have never heard of or even thought about.

I thought about doing a cross-comparison to the treatment that most Western doctors follow (medication management and therapy), but that may be a lot to slam into one documentary.

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Oct 11, 2014
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great story
by: Desktop Documentaries

Hi Maurice,

Thank you for sharing your documentary idea. I think you're on to something here. This seems like a fresh take on mental illness and there would be a lot of support for a story like this. Step #1 for this documentary is to travel to Burkina Faso & Ghana with a film crew. Good luck!

Faith

Oct 11, 2014
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Thanks
by: Maurice Edward J

Thanks Faith! I'll have to read some of the articles on this site about how to find a film crew and etc. I'm so excited about the idea of making a documentary on this topic that I haven't figured out small details or even a budget.

Oct 11, 2014
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resources
by: Desktop Documentaries

Maurice,

Here's an article about how to find fimmakers and here's a helpful budgeting pack. Hope that helps!

Faith

Feb 16, 2015
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Thanks!!!
by: Kirie

This is awesome. I planned on doing a documentary project called "I'm Not Crazy" for my film class, but I didn't exactly know where to start. I just knew I wanted to show the audience that mental illness isn't exactly an illness... This idea totally summed up what I was trying to say and now I have a full out treatment. Shooting soon! Thanks so much!!

Feb 17, 2015
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Thanks
by: Maurice Edward J

Well I'm glad I inspired someone ;-)

Jul 05, 2015
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A helpful book on a related topic
by: Kelley

Check out the book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. The subtitle is "A Hmong child, her American doctors and the collision of two cultures". I think it will inspire you. A different take on a very similar idea. And it's not an obscure book, it was the winner of the national book critics Circle award.

May 06, 2016
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If there is any way I can contribute, I'd be honored.
by: Miani Ramaz

When I was growing up in Africa, my mother suffered from all the symptoms of bipolar disorder but was never diagnosed due to a lack of knowledge over the concept of mental health. When she finally committed suicide during a psychotic break, she was dubbed as being "possessed by spirits."
Upon moving to the United States, I found out that I too suffer from both psychosis and bipolar disorder. I was ultimately rescued during my first suicide attempt and brought to a psychiatric ward for proper diagnosis and treatment. I don't doubt that my mother would have also been spared if she was living here instead of Africa.
I would love to discuss the pros and cons of the contrasting views on treatment for those who suffer from what some see as mental illness.

If anyone wants to collaborate with me or simply wants to know more about my situation, you can e-mail me: maya1695@gmail.com

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