By Kristin Burnell
On Tuesday, Sept. 26, the Vision Project organization presented the documentary “Dorothea’s Tears: The State of Mental Health Care in America” in the Martire Center Media Theater.
The film was presented by Master of Arts in Communication graduates Keith Maciog and Geer Teng. Taking nearly two years, Maciog worked as the producer of the project and Teng directed it.
The film discusses the deinstitutionalization amongst mental hospitals across America and how it has degraded the country’s mental health system. It explores the negative affects of what getting rid of state mental hospitals has done to our society.
“We don’t really have a system for mental health and I am hoping maybe we can go from here by making improvements and spreading awareness to the general public,” said Maciog.
The film provides insights about mental health from various sources, including: former state hospital employees, state officials, therapy professionals, as well as parents from the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy.
The documentary was named after Dorothea Lynde Dix—an American author and reformer for mental health during the 19th century. She advocated to have new institutions created across the United States and Europe. By doing so, Dix changed people’s awareness about the mentally ill.
This was one of the reasons that inspired Maciog and Teng to make a documentary about mental health.
“We want to make people aware of what’s happened with mental health and where we are right now,” said Maciog.
Throughout the documentary, it’s mentioned that the number of mental hospitals has decreased as they were defunded by the state. According to the Vision Project’s website, the goal was to normalize mentally ill patients and consolidate them into the community. However, the mentally ill have ended up in prison, city streets, or in county morgues.
“After watching the documentary, I never realized how damaged our mental health system was,” said sophomore Marissa Percivalle. “The film opened a whole new perspective for me on mental health.”
The film also showed all the positives that came from these institutions.
The film features Fairfield Hills State Hospital in Newtown, Conn.
The hospital opened in 1931 and housed nearly 4,000 patients. It was shutdown in 1995 and all patients were moved to Connecticut Valley Hospital.
Maciog and Teng spoke with former employees of Fairfield Hills. A nurse that worked at the institution expressed her concerns about a former Fairfield Hills patient she visited in a state prison. He was put there once the hospital shut down, and has not been the same since.
Students who attended the screening were in awe over the film.
“Since I walked out of the doors to the screening room, I still haven’t been able to get my mind off the topic,” said sophomore Jake Doble. “The documentary is so powerful and shows us proof on how mental health care is something we as Americans should focus on providing for everyone.”
After the film ended, Maciog and Teng opened up a discussion session to audience members. They both talked about their personal opinions on mental health and their ultimate goals for the documentary.
“The biggest problem is not a lot of people are talking about this situation happening in this beautiful country,” said Teng. “That’s the most important thing. That’s scary. We don’t finish problems. We just show problems to society and just let people talk about it, not do anything about it.”
Run by Coordinator of Multimedia Journalism and Professor of Communication and Media Studies Rick Falco, Vision Project is an organization dedicated to the development of investigative journalism, documentary photography, film and multimedia, and education.
It is Falco’s hope that “Dorothea’s Tears” will become a widespread documentary; as he is working deals with the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) to showcase the film.
“Our goal is to give you information,” said Falco. “Our society has to have values that take care of our people.”