Bits and Pieces: A Brilliant Documentary, Scholarships Available, and Fighting Stigma

If you haven’t seen a film entitled A Sister’s Call  by Rebecca Schaper and Klye Tekiela you need to watch it. It is one of the most honest and moving documentaries that I’ve had the privilege of watching. (Check out the film’s three minute trailer above.)

I met Rebecca Schaper a week ago while speaking at the annual fundraiser for the National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter in Greenville, South Carolina. Her film was being honored by the local NAMI chapter because Rebecca’s brother, Call Richmond Jr., lived in Greenville and much of the filming of the documentary was done there. 

Call was diagnosed with paranoid schzophrenia. In 1977, he disappeared and stayed missing for twenty years.  When he finally reappeared, Rebecca took on the tasks of both rescuing her older brother and bringing him back into her family.

Rebecca’s heroic fourteen year effort to save her brother is inspirational. Helping him get an accurate diagnosis, good psychiatric care, the proper medications and into meaningful community services proves difficult. Like so many of us, who have a loved one with a mental illness, Rebecca soon finds herself overwhelmed.

Her patient and supportive husband and their two teenage daughters miss and begin to resent not having Rebecca with them because of the constant attention that Call requires. Despite her hercurian efforts, Rebecca discovers that she cannot save her brother, especially when Call begins drinking, stops taking his medications, becomes delusional and has a major breakdown. At that point, others question whether Call can get better. They worry that his illness will destory Rebecca  too.

Rebecca refuses to give up and viewers soon find themselves being drawn into another painful and surprising side story that surfaces after Rebecca begins looking into her own haunted childhood.

On the surface, Rebecca’s parents seemed to provide their three children with a “Leave to Beaver” upbringing. Rebeccas was born into a wealthy Atlanta family. Her mother was a beautiful socialite. Her father was a war hero and respected businessman.  There were family vacations at the beach and debutante balls.

But there were secrets behind the family’s closed doors. Rebecca’s mother suffered from a debilitating mental disorder that lead to frequent hospitalizations and countless electro- shock treatments. Her father was a monster.

I receive lots of requests to plug books and films about mental illnesses. A Sister’s Call is one of those rare documentary films that I am thrilled to endorse. At times it is difficult to watch because of the pain that you are witnessing on the screen. But before the curtain falls, you realize that this is a  multi-faceted story about resilience, determination and the incredible power of love to save and restore lives. 

It will stay with you long after the credits roll.

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Eli Lilly and Company is accepting applications for the 2013-2014 school year for its Lilly Reintegration Scholarship program. Through it, Lilly provides funds for tuition, books and lab fees for students who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and/or  related schizophrenia-spectrum disorders. These financial scholarships are intended to help persons with mental disorder pursue and achieve their educational and vocational goals.

You can find out more about how to apply here.  An independent judging panel comprised of psychiatric care professionals review applications annually and select scholarship winners. Past recipients have studied at Harvard, Yale and MIT, as well as hundreds of state and private universities, community colleges and trade schools. Recent areas of study include engineering, law, psychiatry, culinary arts, graphic design, social work, physics, education and computer sciences. 

If you know someone who needs financial help and wants to pursue their education or vocational training, please pass along word about the scholarships. They are one way we can show the world that being diagnosed with a mental disorder doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve great things!

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The Washington Post  published a slightly altered version of my blog: The Presidential Insult that the Pundits Missed, last week and it immediately caused a stir. More than 450 people commented on my submission, which the Post published under the headline: In Defense of the Mentally Ill.

If you want to see how much we still have to do to educate the public, read some of those comments. Better yet, don’t bother. Many are mean spirited, personal attacks at  me.

The point of my blog and editorial was that no one — not even the President of the United States — should imply that persons with mental illnesses are automatically dangerous. While some commentators understood this and thought that I was being too rough on President Obama by reading too much into his off-the-cuff statements, most argued about gun control  or peppered their posts with partisan propaganda.

Why do I bother submitting editorials that I know are going to get more negative responses than supportive ones? Because I firmly believe that the only way we will ever be able to fight stigma is by speaking out against it whenever we hear or read a comment no matter how benign it might seem. If we keep making our case, eventually people will get it.

Some positive signs:  Clare Danes recently won an Emmy for her role as Carrie Mathison, a woman suffering from bipolar disorder, in the HBO drama HOMELAND, which swept the 2012 awards ceremony.  Danes’ realistic portrayal is showing millions of viewers a more realistic and complex image of a person with a mental disorder than Hitchcock’s legendary Psycho.

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.

  • Terri Wasilenko

    Keep rocking the boat, Pete!
    Take care.
    Terri