The Connecticut Mental Health Center is currently in the process of making a video series titled “Recovery is…” that depicts the lives of people struggling with mental health.
In honor of CMHC’s 50th anniversary, the center has been releasing one video a month for the last year that focuses on an aspect of a person’s life that he or she believes has helped them along their road to recovery. In a two- to five-minute segment, individuals talk about how their specific passion or focus has helped to make their lives better despite their constant struggle with their health.
“We wanted to pick dimensions of people’s lives — friendship, music, creative craft like crocheting — and look at what people are doing in their lives around that,” said Kyle Pedersen, the director of the Connecticut Mental Health Center Foundation, which funded the video series. “Then, [we wanted to] see how the mental health story might weave its way in, but not start with a mental health story.”
In the videos, participants share recovery stories from a variety of mental illnesses, including but not limited to depression, alcoholism, drug addiction and schizophrenia. The people in the videos, however, focus more on their stories of finding what is important to them, which ranges from helping their community and having a dog to cooking and reading, rather than on the illness itself.
One video released in February 2016 titled “Recovery is Music” features Shenette Lopez as she talks about how learning new instruments provided her with an escape from her turbulent home life.
“I found better ways to cope by just practicing, instead of reverting back to my old ways where I struggled with a lot of self-harm,” said Lopez. “It was a way to keep myself steady and stable and not to do anything harmful. In the process, I guess music has been my coping mechanism for my illness, and two years strong haven’t done anything to myself, so I thank music a lot for that.”
The videos also included advice reminding people struggling with mental health to go get help and surround themselves with people who support their good choices, but tended not to focus on coping strategies.
Lucile Bruce, the CMHC Communications Officer and producer of the “Recovery Is…” video series, emphasized that the focus of the videos was on the lives of clients whose specific interests or hobbies helped them through their recovery.
“One thing that struck me was how people’s recovery stories came through when they were talking about other things,” said Bruce, reflecting on filming the videos. “Some of the details were especially powerful in the context of the other thing that they were talking about. For example, there’s a video on reading where we go to the library with John and … he talks about his difficulty reading because he hears voices. … That just makes it so much more real for people.”
Bruce said she is curious whether sharing actually helped the people in these videos along their road to recovery. At a CMHC family event midway through this year, several of the videos were screened, and according to Bruce, the people in the videos were really proud of what they had created.
Douglas Bloch, who runs a website and depression recovery blog called “Healing from Depression,” also creates videos to provide support to those suffering from mental illness. He said that his videos, and the ones in the “Recovery is…” series, were a great way of telling the unedited stories of what mental illnesses are really like and how, once symptoms are managed, it is still possible to live a regular life.
“Depression is like having an emotional toothache: all you can think about is the tooth, so you can’t think about anybody else or the outside world,” he said.
Finding something else to concentrate on “is a way to refocus you onto the outside world. … It distracts you from your own pain,” Bloch added.
CMHC has over 5000 clients.