The Hope Defined Project
Using Film To Change The Narrative On Mental Health
The film and media industry is a powerful global force. Its influence has contributed to our society’s political and social views, and has helped shape cultural ideals, including what it means to be “beautiful,” “happy,” “normal,” “popular,” and “socially acceptable.” With continuous exposure to these ideals, we have been encouraged to apply them to our own lives, where we feel pressure to meet the impossible, fictitious standards depicted on screen. And the social conditioning doesn’t stop there. For years the film and media industry has been notorious for misrepresenting diverse groups of people, among them, individuals with mental health challenges. When we continuously see mental health challenges represented through stereotypes that are violent, dangerous, out of control, and helpless, we start to believe these portrayals mirror reality. But too often these are false representations that perpetuate mental health stigma and deter people from seeking mental health care.
The Hope Defined Project was created by Hope For The Day to provide outreach and education on mental health through film and digital media. Just as the pervasiveness of film has the potential to negatively impact our culture, it also has the ability to incite social change and deepen empathy for previously misunderstood and misrepresented demographics. Staying true to our proactive approach, we aim to use film as a tool to change the narrative on mental health; to flip the script and give accurate representation to those affected by mental health challenges.
Our first film, “I’m Fine” debuted at the Naperville Independent Film Festival in 2016. In it’s 30 minute run time, it documents how the silence of stigma prevents two teenagers from seeking proper support after their best friend and sibling completes suicide. The script was reviewed and endorsed by Mental Health America Illinois and Illinois Department of Public Health, and was composed based on survivors’ attempts and loss experiences. Since its premiere, the film has become an important facet in Hope For The Day’s educational programming and we actively use it to supplement discussions on stigma, communication, mental health care, and suicide.
This year, we are working with MediaChron Productions and writer and director, David Azer to release the feature film, “To My Family.” The film offers a real life portrayal of a teenage boy’s mental health challenges as he records video diaries, trying to explain his internal experiences to his family and make sense of undiagnosed bipolar disorder and social anxiety. Like many people affected by mental health, the silence of stigma prevents Tyler from speaking directly to his family about what he’s going through, and because he has not had access to appropriate resources, he continues to grapple with his mental health.
Azer’s intention to break the stigma and open a conversation on mental health is clear throughout the film. “People with these disorders are people like you and me,” he says. “The truth is, I am a lot like Tyler, where I have a lot of trouble expressing my emotions and the way I feel to people, so I wanted to make a film that encapsulated that. I wanted to use this film as a message to my own family.”
The film is also intentionally set in an unknown location. The choice to use an ambiguous setting emphasises that mental health affects everyone no matter where you’re from. Mental health has no prejudice. It impacts all races, cultures, sexualities, genders, ages, and social classes. It doesn’t matter where or who you are; a mental health challenge can be triggered by internal or external experiences and anyone can face a mental health challenge or crisis during their lifetime.
In the case of Tyler, he is part of one of the age groups (age 10-24) most impacted by mental health. But rather than relying on the outdated, overused stereotypes of the mentally ill to portray Tyler, Azer showcases the complexities of mental health, shedding light on Tyler’s human need to be understood.
“There are all these movies out there that are constantly dramatizing and glorifying everything, especially mental disorders. The problem is that people start to associate that— they start to say ‘oh well every time I’ve seen mental disorders and mental disabilities on TV it’s these crazy characters,’ so people will start to think that means you’re crazy . . . I wanted to do [a film] and strip away all of the drama, strip away all of that Hollywood glitz and glam, and just show you a real person and let you connect to someone genuinely.”
“To My Family” is poised for a strong 2018 film festival run. With the help of compassionate directors like Azer, The Hope Defined Project continues to use film as a means to incite empathy and broaden perspectives on mental health. Our hope is that this film resonates with a wide range of people and allows them to see that we’re all in this together. Having a mental health challenge does not mean it’s the end of your life or that you’re crazy. There are resources available so you can live a better quality of life. Together we can break the silence and raise the visibility of resources so individuals going through mental health challenges like Tyler can feel confident enough to speak out and get the help they need. We will reduce suicide rates when we eliminate the highest risk factors, which include the silence of stigma and the lack of visible resources.
For more information on The Hope Defined Project visit our website.
IT'S OK NOT TO BE OK
If you or someone you know needs help, reach out;
Crisis Text Line
TEXT “ITSOK” TO 741741 (Available 24/7)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-8255(TALK) - Press 1 for Veterans Line
The Trevor Project LGBT Lifeline
866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386) (Available 24/7)