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May 14, 2020
by: Étude Staff Writers, Étude High School American Literature students

Students Critically Review Indie Lens, Bedlam

crit·i·cal think·ing
the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment

Independent Lens PopUp, a program by PBS, provides students with access to award-winning films that address relevant social issues. Each school year, Étude High School students attend screenings of Indie Lens films at the John Michael Kohler Art Center. Along with discussing the films in classrooms, students also engage in topical conversations with various community professionals such as Sheboygan police, UW-Milwaukee professors, and Mental Health America directors. This helps heighten student awareness of modern-day issues and develop the critical thinking skills necessary to actively participate in the world they inherit after high school graduation.

Students’ Critical Review

Bedlam, a film directed by psychiatrist and author Kenneth Paul Rosenberg, focuses on revealing the harsh realities of mental illness and how people with mental illness have been treated throughout history to the present day. The critical message is that our country is still dealing with a mental health crisis due to decisions made over the mid- to late-20th Century by U.S. leaders, President John F. Kennedy and President Ronald Reagan. The most talked about being the move from hospitals institutions to prisons. Many of the goals made by Kennedy and Reagan to remove and defund the institutions backfired. Almost 40% of people living on the streets in today’s society have mental health issues; exposing their inability to cope with or properly medicate their individual prognosis. In short, the documentary makes it clear they need professional medical attention, nearly around the clock in some cases.

The documentary follows several mental health patients throughout the course of several years. Their lives reveal how easy it is to relapse, with patients seeming fine, to having to go back to the LAC+USC Medical Center or other hospitals where they first received care, to then be released back home or left to the streets—in all cases shown it was a rollercoaster. Overall this documentary is so persuasive, because Rosenberg follows these real people struggling through real situations due to mental health and the flaws in the mental health institutions along with society. Family members and people who care about the mental health patients have to struggle seeing the people they care about not getting the treatment that they need to be okay.

A strength is being able to see what actually happens in the hospitals. A weakness is also being able to see what actually happens in the hospitals. It can be hard to watch what happens in the hospitals; some people may have been in the same situation at one point in their life. Seeing that all happen again can put people through a lot of stress. It is truly a stark reminder that mental health patients need to be treated with kindness versus being thrown into a jail cell. The interviews with these people and the impact these situations had on the families, and just hearing from them provided so much evidence that society has got to do something about the topic of the nation’s mental health crisis.

As a class, we gave this documentary an average 4.5 out 5 ranking. It does the job it needs to do—it addresses how the nation does or doesn’t deal with mental health, shows how the U.S. got to the place it is now, and what mental health patients need to make an impact on their daily lives in the future. Although it was difficult to watch at times, it talks about things that need to improve and how people are making changes, so it is both positive and non-positive because there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

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