"A Boston State of Mind" Screening Explores Mental Health Struggles

On Tuesday, April 7, the Gabelli Presidential Scholars unveiled their documentary “A Boston State of Mind” to a packed auditorium. The documentary focused on mental health and mental health care in Boston, and how issues of class, race, and gender can impede access to treatment.

The students showed part of the documentary, held a panel with some of the experts interviewed in the film, and then finished showing the rest of the documentary. The video began with students asking both the experts and other students to define mental health. The answers offered varied from the absence of mental illness to one’s ability to function in the world, even while coping with mental illness. With so many different answers, and no consensus even among experts, it's no wonder that understanding and treating mental illness is so complex.

Those interviewed in the film and who participated in the panel spoke at length about how one’s circumstances affect how they seek treatment and what type of treatment they receive. Dr. Lisa Goodman, a professor in Counseling, Developmental, and Educational Psychology at the Lynch School, talked about the experience of trying to seek care as a poor or working class mother. Since 40 percent of women don’t get paid if they don’t show up to work, trying to schedule an appointment in the hours available is a difficult feat on its own, Dr. Goodman remarked. In addition, that mother needs to find affordable childcare, transportation, and figure out how to cover the cost of treatment.

“It’s very difficult to talk about your internal experience, without also talking about your external experience,” Dr. Goodman said.

There are also often cultural barriers in seeking treatment. “Many of the people most in need come from a culture where [getting help] is stigmatized to a great degree,” said Barry Schneider, a senior lecturer in the Boston College Psychology Department. The idea that mental illness and mental health treatment is for white people, or for upper class people is sometimes further cemented by the poor care that poor individuals and minorities receive when they do try to seek treatment, which can make the barriers even more difficult to break down.

One possible solution suggested in the film and by some of the panelists is training people in communities to perform mental health treatment. The documentary featured Valarie Ifill, co-founder of Reaching Out About Depression, a program of local support groups for low-income women. Women are then trained to lead these groups in their own communities. Dr. Margarita Alegria, one of the panelists and Director of the Center for Multicultural Mental Health Research, spoke about her own experience training community mental health volunteers to work in elderly communities.

The panel also focused on the connection between spirituality, religion, and mental health care. Fr. James Burns, the Dean of the Woods College of Advancing Studies, said that in his experience, religion can be extremely helpful in understanding and dealing with trauma. In interviewing those affected by the Boston sex abuse scandal, he found that those able to adjust their understanding of religion and spirituality recovered much better than those who could not.

The documentary finished with the interviewees focusing on the progress that has been made and is being made. As more people care, get involved and recognize the crisis of mental health care, they agreed, then there is reason to hope.

To see the documentary, please visit www.abostonstateofmind.com

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