Director, writer and producer Margaret Byrne takes us down a road that is a long journey where it seems impossible to ever reach a happy destination. The road we travel upon is mental illness in Chicago where Chicago’s Cook County offered a specialized probation for mental illness diagnosed detainees. A special court geared to provide treatment with a goal to integrating “criminal offenders with mental illness” back into the community.
Byrne follows three participants in the Mental Health Court. And their road to integration never seems to be reached. There is hope, optimism then relapses. Byrne herself is a participant in the mental health system suffering from major depression, anxiety and suicidal tendencies. She has been institutionalized on several occasions. Even during the filming of the documentary she admitted herself to a psychiatric institution for treatment. Her perspective is that of an insider and her own personal insights are the big takeaways of the documentary. Her view is that mental illness is cyclical and taking the wrong medications and not taking care of yourself or giving in to what you are fighting can put you back to square one. Mental illness just keeps happening with the solution seemingly impossible to attain. You need someone to be accountable to. In the case of Byrne it is her sister Jenny and her daughter that keep her from spinning out of control as she realized she had to get it together or risk losing custody of her daughter.
The three people she focuses on in their lucid and well moments are often charming and likeable but then on a regular basis there is a crash perhaps often due to substance abuse that puts them back in the hole. As Byrne notes you can appear ordinary but when “that time” comes it is not pretty and you want to look away from it but we shouldn’t look away from what is bad as we often do hence the mentally ill are left on the streets ignored and rejected. Byrne was inspired by the continual battles her subjects were trying to manage and that inspired her to go back into therapy. So while the film is ostensibly about 3 subjects with mental illness is it really is about 4 people with Bryne being number 4 and offering penetrating and simple insights perhaps that are needed by viewers to anchor this documentary from being just a series of interesting observations to being an honest and excruciating painful if not haunting view of mental illness. A must view for all wishing to understand the mental health system and the seemingly insurmountable.
I will let you viewers hear the stories the documentary presents but I am unsure of the conclusion you will draw. On my part it is that mental illness is a demon that can strike a person for many reasons that could be sexual abuse as a child, substance abuse or horrific life events. But there is no magic answer for a complete inventory of what causes mental illness and more disturbingly there is no answer. You can be well educated and having things go your way and then pow.
As a closing comment I wrote an article on therapeutic yoga for seniors that caught on like wildfire in Canada and I ended up giving an address to family practitioners in Canada at their convention. They seemed to appreciate my off-beat address and one psychiatrist approached me afterwards and we started chatting and a comment she said stuck in my mind and that was depression was a lifelong condition and the best one could hope for was remission. After “Any Given Day” I am beginning to think she was right.
This is Toronto Hot Docs film and you can access as of April 29th-May 9th if you are located in Canada. You can purchase tickets at the Hot Docs website https://hotdocs.ca/p/hot-docs-festival