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May 8th, 2017
I attended the world premiere screening of The Imbalancing Act, a film by Logan Binstock made with the support of her fellow students, staff, and student council of the Brighton Hall school. The film is a short fictionalized story about mental illness and a young woman’s struggle to make sense of and come to terms with her experiences. Without revealing too much of the plot, I would say that it succeeds as a short film in that it effectively creates a situation in which the outcome of the film makes the viewer rethink an important aspect of the preceding story. We become engaged with the main character, Devin, in her struggle to deal with some disturbing changes in her thoughts and feelings about herself and her life. Interestingly, the conclusion of the film takes an idea the viewer constructs to understand the narrative and flips it on its head, a rare feat for a film at least partially intended to be polemic. In the end it offers an engaging and emotionally powerful life lesson about the importance of opening up to others about the things that trouble us on the inside.
The experience itself was astounding as well. How often does one encounter an auditorium filled with high school students shouting their support and encouragement about coping with mental illness and talking about it? I was invited to speak to them about Painted Brain and mental health for a few minutes, and I got to further explore the impact of an idea I have had lately about how to talk about this difficult stuff. I offered some ideas about what it is to have mental health: purpose, physical activity, good social connections, and also things like humility, ownership of personal flaws, setting healthy boundaries, and compassion for oneself and for others.
If we accept this idea of #mentalhealth, it does not in any way require the absence of #mentalillness. As I have written about elsewhere, mental illness is an unwanted mental experience that we cannot control. Diagnosis is the experience with impairing intensity and adequate duration. Many of the folks I know who have mental illness are among the mentally healthiest people because they have had to come to terms with the vicissitudes of their own brains. At the same time, many people who do not have mental illness also do not have healthy reactions to their own limitations, fears and other challenges.
I cannot really imagine mental health coexisting with racism, sexism, homophobia, or generalized hatred. These things represent the psychological concept of displacement. To blanket another group of humans with disgust and hatred is to disown an unwanted part of ourselves and place it on another.
The Imbalancing Act does a spectacular job of illustrating this idea by making a clear distinction between Devin’s inherent goodness and the way that the symptoms of her mental illness fail to change her underlying goodness in any way while hampering her ability to expression that goodness in her both her life and to the world. It was a great short film and I am excited to find ways to incorporate it into our future interactions with high school students via Painted Brain’s speakers bureau.
Dave Leon LCSW is the founder/director of Painted Brain. He writes a column called Dave’s Brain about mental health issues and their impact on media and culture.