Each year, the sophomore Presidential Scholars engage in a yearlong social justice project on a topic of their choice. This year, the 18 sophomore P-Scholars decided to direct their energy toward mental health, an area that is already gaining a voice on campus, but is still often overlooked. This focus was chosen based on six weeks spent at a variety of placements in Boston including Rosie’s Place, St. Francis House, Haley House, Suffolk County House of Corrections and Educational Development Group. The P-Scholars want to reveal to Boston College how mental health played a role in their summer placements and throughout Boston.
In the fall of 2014, the P-Scholars launched their project, Unmasking Mental Health. They began with a preview of the play Tigers Be Still by working with the Dramatics Society, which was followed by a panel featuring psychology and art therapy professionals. Preceding the show was the opening of an art gallery of over thirty pieces from the St. Francis House Art Therapy Studio and Outside the Lines Studio.
The lack of mental healthcare was made evident at summer placements at both St. Francis House and Rosie’s Place. The organizations worked to serve a variety of guests, but for many, the only mental health “treatment” available was the stability that each of these organizations offered. They could be provided with meals, clothes or showers each day, providing them with a routine and the comfort of the familiar volunteers. If they had access to formal therapy or treatment, many of these guests could have benefitted greatly.
Students working within the criminal justice system witnessed first-hand how the cycle of poverty paired with mental health struggles ultimately led to jail time for many of the imprisoned. They were not provided with the education or resources necessary to succeed in life and end the cycle that they were unfortunately caught in.
Today, Tuesday, April 7th, is the second event of the Unmasking Mental Health project. The P-Scholars are unveiling their original documentary at 7:15 PM in Higgins 300. The documentary explores mental health in the Greater Boston area by focusing on socioeconomic and cultural disparities in mental health awareness. It also touches on the topics of the stigma surrounding mental health and access to care. The documentary will be followed by a Q&A with several of the professionals involved in the making of the film.
The documentary was produced as a collaboration with a variety of organizations including the Cambridge Health Alliance, the Boston Public Health Commission, the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, Harvard Medical School and Boston Public Schools. The film integrates different factors that encompass mental health.
The P-Scholars did not delve into this project with an end-goal in mind. Instead, they chose for it to be as much of a learning experience for themselves as it will be for the audience. In exploring struggles of mental health, they found that issues were easily compounded by issues of race, socioeconomic status, immigration, education and even more. These social implications did not simply exacerbate the problems; they also affected perceptions of mental health within society, access to treatment and quality of care.
Though the focus of the documentary is the Greater Boston area, the Presidential Scholars believe that mental health is a much more widespread issue. Rather than limiting their findings to Boston, they suggest that these problems are indicative of the state of mental health in cities across the United States. The hope is that viewers will be inspired to advocate for mental health. The P-Scholars are looking to open a social justice dialogue through this very impactful documentary.
For those who cannot be present at the premiere, but still wish to view the documentary, it will be available on the Presidential Scholars’ website abostonstateofmind.com following the event. The trailer is also currently available on the website for those who are interested.