Most people will agree we don’t do enough to address mental health in this country. The truth about mental health care is even worse than you can imagine, as the documentary Bedlam shows.
Bedlam follows a few people who enter the Los Angeles Country USC psychiatric ER. Johanna is bipolar and dropped out of college when her symptoms became prohibitive. Monte is schizophrenic and on parole for a crime he committed during an episode. Todd is manic depressive and homeless. Merle was the director’s sister, diagnosed psychotic at age 20.
The subjects unrelated to director Kenneth Paul Rosenberg allow him to show them in their most extreme, fragile states. This allows people to see what mental illness really looks like. It’s not just words and it’s not what you see in fictional movies and TV. Rosenberg tells his sister’s story from a personal perspective.
It’s also important that Rosenberg followed an ER. Most people, including myself, only deal with mental illness in private practice. We may deal with anxiety or depression but private practice doesn’t see the most extreme cases. LAC USC is on the front lines. Psychiatrists like Dr. McGhee, Dr. Lacsina and Dr. Dias have the patience of saints and they’re trying to do something.
Bedlam covers the history of treating the mentally I’ll too. Some systemic problems come from de-institutionalizing patients, thus making many of them homeless with no treatment. Communities tried to take care of their residents but Reagan and other politicians defunded then. Effective medication and treatments are relatively new within the last century, but now the only ones funding research are the pharmaceutical companies themselves. We can do better.
If people aren’t dangerous enough to be committed to a hospital, if law enforcement mocks people having episodes and tazes then to death, who is there to treat people? It’s hard to motivate people to fix the problem when the only incentive is helping people. It shouldn’t be so hard, but it is.
Bedlam doesn’t have many suggestions or alternatives. It’s main focus is to show why this isn’t working. I think that’s a start. Showing people some raw episodes, letting them know how the system is not serving people will hopefully motivate people to support positive changes. Then we can go from there.