The following interview is part of a “future of mental health” interview series that will be running for 100+ days. This series presents different points of view about what helps a person in distress. I’ve aimed to be ecumenical and included many points of view different from my own. I hope you enjoy it. As with every service and resource in the mental health field, please do your due diligence. If you’d like to learn more about these philosophies, services, and organizations mentioned, follow the links provided.
Interview with Phil Borges
EM: Can you tell us about your new documentary CRAZYWISE?
PB: CRAZYWISE reveals a paradigm shift that is challenging the way Western culture defines and treats mental health crises.
While documenting human rights issues faced by tribal and indigenous cultures around the world I began meeting many of their healers and seers we call Shamans. At first, many of them recounted having symptoms that we identify with mental illness: extreme anxiety, hearing voices or seeing visions. They were typically comforted and told their symptoms were ‘a calling’ that identified them as having potential to become a healer or clairvoyant—a person we would call a Shaman. Typically an older Shaman would mentor them through an initiation process in which they learned to manage their very unique and powerful sensitivities.
I was fascinated that these cultures could take an individual, who in our society would often end up medicated, on disability insurance, homeless, or in jail, and turn them into a highly respected and valuable member of their community. Back home, our film team began meeting many individuals who are part of a growing movement of survivors who have managed to recover and are now challenging a mental health care system in crisis.
What these ‘people with lived experience’ have to tell us, and what other cultures have to show us, could spark a much-needed conversation about our current mental health care practices and perceptions.
EM: You describe what you do as “storytelling for social change.” Can you tell us a little bit about your philosophy and methods?
PB: I have spent my career producing films, exhibitions and books designed to raise awareness and inspire support for social and environmental issues facing people in the developing world. I use individual portraits, interviews and stories to shed light on social, economic and environmental challenges. I believe we best access issues through the individual stories of the individuals facing them. I have documented various issues ranging from the oppression of the Tibetan people, the importance of empowering women and girls in the developing world, and most recently the growing mental health crisis here in Western culture.
EM: What are your thoughts on the current, dominant paradigm of diagnosing and treating mental disorders and the use of so-called psychiatric medication to treat mental disorders in children, teens and adults?
PB: The bio-medical paradigm is currently being challenged by a passionate group of mental health professionals, patients, and survivors of ‘mental illness.’ For our film CRAZYWISE we have interviewed over 75 of these individuals who are advocating for a change in our mental health care system. From these interviews, we have learned that very positive results can be achieved by emphasizing hope for recovery, finding community, family acceptance and support, and peer mentorship.
These methods are similar to what I witnessed among indigenous cultures and what we see being utilized in alternative treatment approaches like Northern Finland’s use of Open Dialogue and Peer Support. Medication is necessary for some, but is being way over-prescribed, especially in children. The good news is that many ‘survivors’ of a mental health crisis report that having hope for recovery, a supportive social network, finding meaning in their distress, and a conservative use of medication can help turn a crisis into an opportunity for growth.
EM: If you had a loved one in emotional or mental distress, what would you suggest that he or she do or try?
First and foremost I would make sure their care providers believed in recovery. So many don’t! Framing a mental health crisis as a degenerative disease of the brain with no known cure can have devastating effects on someone in the vulnerable state of a crisis–yet it happens all the time.
Second, make sure that the person who is suffering is surrounded by people who love him or her: that there are people who can listen with an ear to understanding and who would look for the sufferer’s strengths instead of their problems and labels. Having a Peer Support (i.e. someone who has successfully navigated a mental health crisis) is very helpful. It has also been expressed to us by many survivors that finding positive meaning in their distress has been very valuable.
Finally, there is no one size fits all answer here. The path to recovery is unique to each individual. Some find the conservative use of medication helpful, some find various online communities, cognitive therapies or diet changes effective. I would encourage anyone going through a mental/emotional crisis to seek support and remember that many others have experienced similar struggles and that ‘you can get better!’
Social documentary photographer and filmmaker, Phil Borges has been documenting indigenous cultures for over 25 years. His photographs are exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide and he has published several award-winning books. He has taught classes and lectured internationally, including four TED/TEDx talks and hosted television documentaries on indigenous cultures for Discovery and National Geographic.
Eric Maisel, Ph.D., is the author of 40+ books, among them The Future of Mental Health, Rethinking Depression, Mastering Creative Anxiety, Life Purpose Boot Camp and The Van Gogh Blues. Write Dr. Maisel at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit him at http://www.ericmaisel.com, and learn more about the future of mental health movement at http://www.thefutureofmentalhealth.com
To learn more about and/or to purchase The Future of Mental Health visit here
To see the complete roster of 100 interview guests, please visit here: