Minds on the Edge: Facing Mental Illness
How do you convince legislators, legal professionals, health care providers, individuals, and communities that change is critically needed in the mental health care delivery system?
At PBS, the answer is to demonstrate the real challenges facing people with mental illnesses and their families every day. As part of the long-running series Fred Friendly Seminars, “Minds on the Edge: Facing Mental Illness” is receiving wide acclaim. Using hypothetical scenarios, the program shows us where the system’s weak points are.
“Minds on the Edge” was recently presented at both SAMHSA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. SAMHSA is spreading the word about this important program as part of the Agency’s commitment to expand public awareness and support around mental illness and the mental health care system.
Expert panelists gather in a circle and are given two hypothetical situations: one that features Olivia, a college-age woman starting to display manic behavior, and another featuring James, a middle-aged man with schizophrenia who finds himself out of work and homeless.
Moderator Frank Sesno unfolds the stories and asks the program panelists to put themselves in the shoes of these hypothetical characters and talk about what they would do if faced with these situations.
The panel includes U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Nobel Prize-winning neurologist Eric Kandel, attorneys, doctors, legislators, and other experts in the field. Several of the panelists have personal and professional experience in living with mental illness.
What unfolds on screen are real reactions—do “Olivia’s parents” lie to the emergency room nurse and say that their daughter threatened to kill them, in order to get Olivia admitted, if the alternative is no care at all? Why doesn’t the mayor in James’ town care about helping him, but only seems to want to keep him away from the downtown area, where he is making residents and shoppers “uncomfortable”?
The resulting scenario puts on display the many holes in the Nation’s mental health system and causes panel members—and viewers—to question what they previously believed. It illuminates challenging ethical issues as well as systemic flaws in program and policy design, service coordination, and resource allocation.
But “Minds on the Edge” also provides a glimpse of innovative solutions currently being implemented across the country. These innovations, many shaped by the guidance and expertise of people with mental illness, offer promising solutions and hopeful direction to transform the mental health system.
“Minds on the Edge” is igniting conversations across the country. Here are a few examples of hundreds of activities using the program that have been organized to rally support, combat negative attitudes, raise awareness of critical issues, and explore effective solutions.
Legislator Education: Vermont, Missouri, Ohio, and Mississippi are leading the way in using “Minds on the Edge” to ensure that state legislators are informed about serious mental illness.
Community Engagement: From Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Saint Lucie County, Florida, to Portland, Oregon, screening events are bringing citizens and key stakeholders together to discuss critical problems.
Judicial and Law Enforcement: In Anchorage, Chicago, and Albuquerque, bar associations, judges, and police officers are exploring alternatives to incarcerating people with mental illness.
Consumers and Families: Dozens of National Alliance on Mental Illness chapters have shared the program with consumers and families to encourage dialogue.
Training for Medical Professionals: From University of California, Berkeley to Erie Community College, educators are introducing students to the complex issues in “Minds on the Edge.”
Veterans: VA hospitals from Loma Linda, California to Gainesville, Florida, are training staff with “Minds on the Edge.”
Though the scenario on screen is hypothetical, everyday people are speaking out to relate how their real-life stories are similar. Check out the YouTube channel to hear what people are saying.
Watch “Minds on the Edge: Facing Mental Illness” online. If you’d like to organize an event to screen the program, request a DVD.