The Psychological Counseling Center, in partnership with Brandeis Students for Disability Activism and Active Minds Brandeis, held a screening of the critically acclaimed film, “Perks of Being a Wallflower,” Friday, Oct. 9. The screening was held in honor of the last day Mental Illness Awareness Week. The coalition of organizations advertised the movie night as a viewing of “a culturally significant film” and a discussion about mental health with staff and students.
Despite its setting in the Volen auditorium, the event itself was rather small. A handful of students filtered into the space before the film began. The movie was wonderful and more than a few tears were shed in the audience, but the more interesting and important portion of the evening was the discussion.
The audience and a panel comprised of students and staff members of the PCC held a dialogue about not only the film but also mental illness as a whole. Points of the movie were lauded, others were criticized. One feature of the film which many students drew issue with was the lack of representation for people of color. Many found that it white washed the topic of mental illness, and made the movie less relatable than it could have been had there been more characters of color. However, most of the comments and assessments of the film were positive.
One of the most positively commented upon aspects of the film was how ordinary its depiction of mental illness was, and PCC Clinical Director Joy von Steiger even mentioned this as a reason for her liking the movie. PCC volunteer Leah Friend ’17 commented on how “Perks” portrays mental illness, stating that “it normalizes it. I think it has this charismatic, real, genuine way of transforming something that everyone goes through into something that everyone can pick up.” Many audience members echoed Friend’s sentiments.
After the event, The Brandeis Hoot reached out to club and volunteer representatives of each of the organizing groups to talk about the screening and mental illness awareness week. A representative of Brandeis Students for Disability Activism commented on what the movie did right, saying, “‘Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is one of a variety of recent films that focus on the experience of the mentally ill rather than portraying mental illness as either a superpower or a source of violence and interpersonal pain.” The representative, who requested anonymity, went on to explain that there are still problems with the way media portrays mental illness. They specifically cited the way the media portrays mental illness in LGBT people and people of color. The representative summed up their comments by expressing gratitude that discussion on this important issue took and continues to take place.
According to Cassidy Tatun ’17, the president of Active Minds, the club is a recently founded “chapter of a national organization dedicated to decreasing the stigma surrounding mental illness on college campuses.” Through discussions in club meetings and planned events such as the screening Friday, Active Minds tries to start a dialogue about mental illness to end the stigma. Both Friend and Tatun agreed that talking about mental illness is one of the most important things students and faculty can do to end the stigma.
Tatun stated the importance of a conversation on mental illness very clearly by recalling the tagline Active Minds uses in their campaign to end stigma, saying “Stigma causes shame, shame causes silence, and silence hurts us all, and that’s something that I really believe in and sticks with me.” She continued her point, saying, “being somewhere where you can openly discuss what’s wrong and feel like you have support can be life changing for people. It can be lifesaving for people.”
The PCC and Active Minds hope to provide a platform and a space for students to discuss both their personal experiences with mental illness and the topic on a broader scale. They hope to host more movie nights over the course of the semester, and are meeting this Friday, Oct. 15 to discuss the next film to be shown. Everyone in attendance at the screening recognized the importance of the discussion on mental illness.
Von Steiger codified the goal of the screenings eloquently, saying “I think that the more people who have difficulty who can speak up about their struggles the more people will feel less shame about it.”