While mental illness isn’t as taboo as a subject as it has been in the past, it doesn’t mean that the stigma and discomfort around the topic have entirely dissipated. There are still many cultures, places, people, and unfortunately, families that find it a tough matter to discuss. However, this has also given rise to people doing amazing things to broaden the subject in order to remove the stigma, and Jheanelle is one of them. Read on to learn about her backstory and how it inspired her to create a film centered around mental health.
My name is Jheanelle, I am a 27 years old, and I have major depression and PTSD. I am currently a film student at Miami Dade College and have always been in love and fascinated with the art of storytelling. As a young child, I would write short stories, act out movies with my toys, and draw my characters. Doing these things and creating stories were my escape from the real world and the trauma I was dealing with. I never really got the help I was supposed to because I was born into a West Indian household. My mother and stepfather are Jamaican, and in the Caribbean culture, children are to be seen and not heard. I began to feel hopeless from the negative things my parents would say to me, witnessing domestic violence between them, and the sexual molestation of a family friend.
In the Caribbean culture (and in Black culture, period) mental health doesn’t exist. If someone is showing signs of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, they are possessed by the devil (or demons) and need to go to church because they don’t pray enough. If they show signs of depression, OCD, or PTSD, they are lazy, moping, or being melodramatic. They hide their symptoms and continue to live life as if they are okay because they do not want to seem weak. For example, women keep quiet about their struggles because they want the title of “The Strong Black Woman”. Therefore, my depression went unnoticed. I was in pain. I cut and hurt myself because the physical pain took away from the emotional pain. The feeling of hopelessness is the most gut wrenching feeling I have ever felt in my life.
As I open up and talk more about my mental illness, more of my peers [of Black and Caribbean culture] open up to me and share their feelings and childhood experiences. Often times they are similar to mine. They are afraid to open up to their parents because they know it will be disregarded or they know that their parents will blame it on them not going to church or praying enough. African Americans are 20% more likely to report to have serious psychological issues than Whites (NAMI). And the majority of that percentage will not receive help.
I am working on a film called “Mental: A Six Film” which will show how the stigma surrounding mental illness prevents people from seeking the help they need. Because they feel unable to find help, they’re left feeling alone, damaged, and worthless. It also shows how religion plays a part on whether or not something is wrong and if they are willing to receive treatment. It will also show how one’s mental illness can affect the people around them as well (family, friends, coworkers,etc.). What I want for people to get out of this film is to show those in that situation that there’s nothing wrong with seeking help. I want to help break the stigma of being mentally ill in the Black and Caribbean culture and to help those suffering gain the courage to seek help and get better. We will be launching a Kickstarter campaign August 15 to help raise funds for production costs (lighting equipment, camera equipment, location fees, etc). We want to make this film extremely great and enjoyable. Our crew consists of a 12 all girl film crew from writers, directors, camera, makeup, and the whole 9. Every girl has had experiences with mental illness and comes from a Black & Caribbean culture where it was not talked about. You can follow our journey through production on your social media sites:
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