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Documentary film screened for Mental Health Month


More than 130 students filled the Great Hall at Pierce College Wednesday for a free movie screening about first-time mental health breakdowns as part of the Building Healthy Communities Initiative (BHCI).

The 1997 film “First Break” is a Canadian documentary directed by Adrienne Amato and Derek Rogers following three college-age people who have experienced mental breakdowns, Beth Benne, director of the Student Health Center, said.

“Right now we are trying to get our feet wet,” Benne said. “The purpose of the film festival is our first attempt to de-stigmatize mental illness.”

Biomed student Vandana Singh, 21, as well as Army veteran and accounting student Jerome Gomez, 25, attended the movie for class credit. Both have had first-hand experiences with someone who had a severe mental breakdown.

“We did an intervention,” Singh said of someone close to her. “It did bring peace to myself because I knew they were doing it because they didn’t want to face these negative consequences.”

Singh said she sees people that struggle with daily stress and tells them it’s not worth dragging themselves down and to get help.

“It was very inspiring,” Singh said in an email to the Roundup after the movie. “I am a medical major and will see these kinds of patients in my field and would love to be their second support system.”

The money to host the event came from an approximate $6.8 million award to California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office from the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) passed in by voters in 2004, Benne said.

Debra Tull and Bonnie Burstein of Los Angeles Harbor College wrote a successful grant for some of that award and arrange mental health education events and programs for six colleges within the Los Angeles Community College district, Pierce being one of them, Benne said.

Dylan Keenberg, a 27-year-old clinical psychology trainee at LA Harbor College was the emcee of the film festival and answered questions after the movie.

“The focus of the grant is to work with the Los Angeles community college consortium set up by Los Angeles Harbor College to work on reducing mental illness stigma, mental health struggle, access to care and stigma for seeking out that care,” he said.

Gomez said he was in the Army for four years and had to “adjust a little bit” when he got back from Iraq in 2010, but was evaluated and said to be “sound of mental health,” he said.

“I know some people that really struggle with and they still have to take a lot of drugs to help them out mentally,” Gomez said.

Benne said the colleges are really gearing up for changing the way they address mental health needs with students in the fall.

“These are our people.  These are not just community college kids. These are county kids,” she said.