Independent Lens: Bedlam

(Rochester, NY) – In an effort to get to the bottom of the current mental health crisis in the U.S., psychiatrist and documentarian Dr. Kenneth Paul Rosenberg chronicles personal, poignant stories of those suffering from mental illness, including his own family, to bring to light this epidemic and possible solutions. Shot over the course of five years, Bedlam takes viewers inside Los Angeles County’s overwhelmed and vastly underresourced psych ER, a nearby jail warehousing thousands of psychiatric patients, and the homes — and homeless encampments — of people affected by severe mental illness, where silence and shame often worsen the suffering. Heralded by The Hollywood Reporter as “a damning indictment and a call to action,” and “lucid, harrowing and urgent,” Independent Lens: Bedlam premieres Monday, April 13, 2020 at 10 p.m. on WXXI-TV.

Today, one in five adults – over 40 million Americans – live with a mental illness. Most people with a serious mental illness (SMI) like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or severe depression cycle through a revolving door of insufficient care due to lack of funding, personnel and space. For those suffering with SMI in Los Angeles, the epicenter of this crisis, their only refuge is the emergency room of the Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center. Rosenberg follows the lives of three patients in particular who find themselves with a chronic lack of institutional support while weaving in his own story of how the system failed his late sister, Merle, and her battle with schizophrenia.

Featuring interviews with experts, activists, individuals living with a mental illness, and their families, the film builds on historical footage and commentary related to mental health, exploring the rise of this issue on a national scale in the mid- and late 20th century. Between the 1950s and 1980s, mental institutions began shutting down due largely to decreased federal funding. As a result, untold numbers of people with mental illness landed on the streets and, inevitably, stumbled on the cracks in American society that have led to the misuse of jails, tens of thousands of people sleeping in parks and on sidewalks, and too many stories of loved ones lost while the clock ticks on solutions from policy makers and Big Pharma.

In addition to the film’s central theme examining the treatment of the mentally ill and the disintegration of care and tools provided to them here in the U.S., Rosenberg highlights the cross section between mental health and mass incarceration by drawing attention to the fact that the largest mental institution in the U.S. is the Los Angeles County jail. Among those interviewed are Patrisse Cullors, whose brother is featured prominently in the film as he battles his severe mental illness. Cullors goes on to become a founder of Black Lives Matter during the making of the documentary, fusing her deep devotion to caring for her brother’s mental health with her activism against racial injustice

Pictured: Johanna at home, a year after being filmed in the LAC-USC Hospital Emergency Room
Credit: Courtesy of Upper East Films

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