HARRISONBURG, VA. (Mennonite Media) John Clark, 49, has been homeless, without a vehicle at times, without adequate funds, and often hospitalized with bipolar disorder and chemical sensitivities following an on-the-job injury in 1989. On New Year’s Day, he watched Mennonite Mission Network’s Shadow Voices: Finding Hope in Mental Illness documentary on ABC-TV. He could relate.
After phoning to order a copy of the program, Clark wrote, in a follow-up letter: “Like all the mental-health problems mentioned and the people shown on your program, my disability problems are debilitating and frustrating as well.” He wants to learn more from the video so he can advocate for people with mental-health impacts and disabilities.
To date, more than 800 other viewers (and some respondents who’ve only heard of the program by word of mouth or the Internet) have been moved enough by the Mennonite Media-produced program to order a DVD or VHS copy for themselves. Almost 150 have posted their own story on the program’s Web site, www.ShadowVoices.com.
Hundreds more (not tabulated) called Mennonite Media’s toll-free number just to talk or get information. Staff members have answered phone calls live at the close of most of the releases, including New Year’s Day and many Sundays, in order that people might connect with a real person when they call.
After viewing Shadow Voices (aired at various times at the discretion of local stations) many callers wanted to talk at length and tell their stories. Some broke down ,such as one woman who said: “This is the first time I’ve ever talked to someone about my illness.”
Life in My Mental Health-Impacted World:
A humorous yet serious look at what we feel and encounter in our day-to-day life operations
By John A. Clark
Purloined process faculties
Like an onion; layers deep!
Depressive, yet I can be sweet
Frowned, can’t bear the mental grief!
Diversions for relief I seek!
By plethora of pills I speak!
So exhausted, need some sleep!
Environmental things plague me!
Lying here, I sob and weep!
Twitter-pated, not at ease!
Hurtin’, need some sympathy!
Sinkin’, sautéed, mental fiends!
I can’t connect and cannot sleep!
Gifted, apt profundities!
Slow motion synergies!
Need a little inner Peace!
Wound, but wounded faculties!
Syncopated, not at ease!
Hit ‘n miss security
Amiable passabilities (possibilities)
To engender some abilities!
So I can build more competencies
To finagle some creativity;
With actions complimentary!
And gain impressive amenities!
Copyright John A. Clark. Used by permission.
At the program’s Web site, a man named Gary responded to another woman who had written about her depression and just “waiting to die.” The woman responded to Gary, thanking him for his encouragement, which he in turn shared with Mennonite Media.
A woman in New York State found out about the program online, e-mailed a note and then phoned. She desperately wanted to find a Mennonite church in her area, about an hour north of Manhattan. Staff members sent her information about the closest churches in Pennsylvania.
“I want to thank you for reaching out to families in this way,” she said repeatedly.
A man named Ross e-mailed saying: “I can’t really remember the last time I said thank you to someone. I’m bipolar and tried suicide 5 years ago. I saw your TV special [and] for the first time, I smiled and cried. Finally someone knows what I feel like and I know it’s not just me. It is such a taboo subject and my friends, [which are] very few now, dare not even bring it up.”
Burton Buller, director of Mennonite media, said the response was gratifying, especially “after a year of intensive work, to have over 70 percent of ABC local stations air the program for free and viewers responding like John Clark.”
Clark compares his injury to the same type that a child (unsupervised) might incur as a result of inhaling toxicants from paint cans or aerosols, causing brain injury or death. Living in an Illinois-run apartment for senior citizens and the disabled, and living on a monthly disability payment, Clark said he is adjusting to living slowly in a world set to warp 10.
“It has been a slow and painful journey of discovery, discouragement, and depression, but also filled with hope, abilities, vision, potential, continuing hard work — blood, sweat and tears,” Clark said. “I live an austere, close-to-poverty lifestyle as many mental health and disability-impacted people do. I have gone hungry many times, at one point growing and eating snails [when he lived in a warmer climate] for protein.”
Now he grows a garden to help provide food for the Rockford Rescue Mission, and works at a variety of hobbies including some level of proficiency on seven musical instruments.
He says he tries to “do the best I can to offer others around me support and encouragement on getting from point A to Point B along this difficult path of mental health challenges and disabilities.”
Callers wanting to connect with professional help or support groups were referred to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) at 888-999-6264, a national advocacy group which consulted with Mennonite Media throughout the production of the documentary. The group has extensive chapters and programs including an entire network of faith-based support groups called FaithNet.
Shadow Voices is a one-hour documentary that focuses on people’s experiences with stigma, recovery and rehabilitation regarding mental illness, parity in insurance programs and how faith communities can do a better job responding. Ten people with mental illness from all across the United States tell their stories, plus many experts and advocates in the field add helpful perspectives, including: former U.S. First Lady Rosalynn Carter; former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher; Dr. William Anthony of Boston University, founder of the modern rehabilitation movement; and Dr. Joyce Burland, founder of the Family to Family program for National Alliance on Mental Illness.
The program is produced by Mennonite Media in cooperation with the Interfaith Broadcasting Commission and the Communications Commission of National Council of Churches. The VHS version ($19.95) contains the program and a DVD version $24.95) contains 2 hours worth of additional programming designed for additional use by churches, educators and small groups.