Dr. Delaney Ruston: A physician and filmmaker’s journey to expose global mental health
What do Bill Gates, Bill Clinton and Bono have in common? They are deeply committed to global health…but who is committed to global mental health? That question led me to make the film Hidden Pictures, which screens at this year’s National Council Conference ‘14. Let me step back and say how I ended up making a documentary on global mental health.
My Dad’s untreated schizophrenia caused so much havoc that when I was in medical school I had to make the excruciating decision to disconnect from him. Dad kept showing up at my door in a state of psychosis and each time I would try so hard to find treatment for him, but it was impossible. I knew that to finish my medical training I had to hide from him.
Eventually I became a doctor and a filmmaker and eventually Dad started getting the mental healthcare that eluded him previously. I wanted to reconnect with him and I decided to film our experiences. I hoped that by capturing our story, the ways in which Dad’s untreated illness split the family apart could help start conversations to prevent this from happening to other families. The resultant film, Unlisted: A Story of Schizophrenia, screened for film festivals, medical settings, on PBS and at many conferences such as the Conference ‘14. The conversations I hoped to help foster occurred well beyond my wildest expectations.
Making that film changed me in that I became a mental health advocate. I started looking for other stories about mental illness that I could help bring to the forefront.
One day, I read an article that told of the World Health Organization’s estimation that a shocking 450 million people globally have some type of mental health issue. I wondered why in this time of increased focus on global health do we hear next to nothing about global mental health? That wonder turned into a five-year obsession.
I filmed in China, India, South Africa, France, and my own backyard to complete the one-hour film, Hidden Pictures. Witnessing the impact of the lack of access of mental health services was devastating. One story I filmed was about Buyiswa, a woman in a South African encampment who suddenly found her mind overtaken with delusions and suicidal thoughts — hearing about her struggles to raise her 2-year-old daughter in the midst of this was daunting.
Her eventual recovery is an example of what I saw over and over — that experiences in mental illness are globally much more similar than different. Similar interventions, like counseling, medicines, and support services, can be remarkably effective in cultures that appear so different in other ways.
The most uplifting part of making Hidden Pictures was filming people who are changing their communities, including Glenn Close and Patrick Kennedy and their work to fight stigma.
It has been wonderful to see how Hidden Pictures is sparking discussions worldwide on the needs of the forgotten. For example, on World Mental Health Day, 140 organizations joined in holding screenings of the film to foster awareness, including the World Health Organization. In fact, the WHO believes so much in the power of the stories in Hidden Pictures that when they launched their latest and largest mental health action campaign, they asked that I create a special short version of the film to be used in their efforts.
It is an incredible honor to me that Hidden Pictures is one of the three films chosen to screen at this years Conference ‘14. My goal in making the film was to help achieve our shared passion of improving mental health care for families in our diverse country and in our diverse world. I know that a film is not the answer…but it is a start.
Dr. Delaney Ruston has long worked in clinics for the underserved as a primary care physician. Hidden Pictures screens at the National Council Conference in DC, May 5-7. Copies of Hidden Pictures and Unlisted can be found in the bookstore and online at www.hiddenpicturesfilm.com