On Sunday, January 27, St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) held a Movies for Mental Health workshop, designed to promote mental wellness by communicating through art and media. Three short films on various aspects of mental health were shown and discussed by the audience, followed by a panel of students who spoke about their mental health journeys.
The workshop was led by L’Oréal McCollum, a professor at Temple University and facilitator for Art With Impact. Art With Impact holds a monthly short film contest for people to create movies that spread awareness about mental wellness. McCollum started off by defining mental health as “an umbrella… how you view the world and yourself in it.” She added that mental illness and mental wellness are connected because you can live with mental illness, but still practice mental wellness.
The first film shown at the workshop, titled “A-Z”, spread a message of hope for individuals struggling with eating disorders and provided information on the eating disorder hotline. The audience reported feeling sadness yet empathy as a reaction to it.
The next film shown, “The Letter,” portrayed a young man struggling with suicidal thoughts after the loss of a loved one, who eventually changed his mind when he met a woman in a supermarket who told him she understands his feelings. There were mixed reactions to this film- some said that it romanticized suicide, while others said it had a good message.
The third film was titled “Little Elizabeth,” and told the story of a girl who underwent childhood trauma and overcame it. She explained how she had to accept it, listen to herself, and promise to support herself. When sharing reactions after the film, students reported that it was very emotional and impactful.
The workshop was heavily discussion-based, promoting a positive and open environment throughout the audience. Students brainstormed the negative ways in which the media portrays the mentally ill, as well as the repercussions for this. McCollum asked the audience to think of ways to help end the stigma against mental illness. Students shared ideas such as normalizing therapy and medication, validating others, being open about their experiences and speaking up when derogatory language about mental illness is used.
Next, the student panel spoke out about their personal stories of coping with and overcoming mental health issues. They emphasized the importance of therapy, peer support and self-awareness. Panel member Cameron Kelley noted that when sharing personal information, “being in front of a big crowd was intimidating, but I felt really comfortable around everyone in the group. Sharing and talking earlier during the event helped me feel open with other students.” Kelley added that she “wanted to use [her] own experiences to increase visibility on campus” through this workshop.
When asked what she thought the most important takeaway from the workshop was, Kelley said “the understanding that everyone needs to keep an eye on their own mental health. Even if a person hasn’t been diagnosed with a mental illness, or doesn’t have a mental illness, stress and life can really take a toll on you. Normalizing these struggles help us be honest about them, and being honest about them can allow us to heal.”