Shadow puppet scene of Patricia with her mother.
“Before my mother died, I told my mother that as long as I was able to, I would always be there for Teresa. Teresa has mental illness.” Patricia in the film.
The documentary Piece of Mind explores the national crisis of untreated serious mental illness mirrored in three viewpoints that take place in the San Francisco Bay Area:
Patricia and Frances are protective of their sister, Teresa, with schizoaffective disorder. Frances was “flabbergasted” that the police shot Teresa at age 56. Teresa survived. Kleigh Hathaway was Teresa’s public defender. Teresa did not want to go to the hospital. Her door was closed, but the officers broke in, Teresa picked up a small knife, they shot her seven times. Frances helps her sister seek compensation through the Americans With Disabilities Act. Teresa’s case reaches the Supreme Court.
Linda, a devoted mother of Jesse, 38, with severe schizophrenia. “I feel like Jesse is in a prison of these delusions and hallucinations that he can’t break out of.” Linda navigates a failed mental healthcare system in seek of treatment for son, who sprays chemicals on his body to kill germs.
Jeff living with bipolar disorder “a white tunnel of white light” attempted suicide at 53. He told friends he was going to try again. They talked him into letting the police take him to the hospital. He was relieved they didn’t handcuff him. He takes medication for the first time in his life. Now, Jeff must balance emotional stability with side effects.
Their intimate accounts, animated by shadow puppet scenes, are woven together against the backdrop of institutionalized neglect and reveal a path toward solutions.
The film traces the lack of inpatient psychiatric beds nationwide initiated by a law passed in 1965, prohibiting federal funding for the mentally ill in hospitals and treatment facilities with more than 16 psychiatric beds. Psychiatric emergency rooms are a revolving door, leaving families and law enforcement to deal with subsequent psychotic incidents.
Dr. Paul Linde, ER psychiatrist, Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, recalls the need of his mentally ill patients for treatment. There are no beds. “You’re asked as a physician to discharge people, who clearly are not healthy enough to be discharged. Puts you in a bind.”
As the stories unfold, Linda, Patricia and Frances are confronted by a 1996 law that blocks family members from taking action on behalf of, or obtaining medical information about their loved one.
Another devastating barrier for family caregivers and their loved ones is anosognosia, a brain disorder that affects approximately 50% of persons with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and bipolar disorder, which drastically impairs awareness of their mental illness.
Currently, Kendra’s Law in New York and Laura’s Law in California offer solutions through Assisted Outpatient Treatment. This has brought controversy over the implementation of court ordered involuntary medication for persons too severely mentally ill to realize they need help.
Piece of Mind amplifies the struggles of family caregivers and persons living with untreated serious mental illness challenging the viewer to look beyond the headlines to the urgent need for a continuum of care.
© 2021 Sheila Ganz