Understanding Mental Illness

Queens Public Television’s award winning series, Understanding Mental Illness, had a significant impact on the Queens Community during its initial run.

An estimated one in four adults will experience some form of mental illness during their lifetime. A diagnosis of mental illness is not an end of the line sentence. Early diagnosis and treatment, modern medication and therapy can help those who suffer from mental illness regain control of their lives and to become, once again, a functioning part of their community.

The mentally ill are very often stigmatized to the point where those who suffer avoid seeking help because they may be too embarrassed to do so. Our series brought together patients, therapists, doctors and other healthcare professionals to examine the causes and solutions for mental illness.

Understanding Mental Illness is a six part series that addresses this important issue from different perspectives and provides a thorough understanding of this important issue. Please watch the re-cablecast of this important series.


We all know mental illness is out there. An estimated one in four adults will suffer a mental disorder in their lifetime. Modern medications,treatments, and therapies, however, can mean that a diagnosis is no longer a life sentence. Experts agree that early diagnosis and treatment produces the best outcomes, yet people wait far too long before seeking help. Why?

In response to public concern about mental illness rates and the state of mental health care, QPTV has produced a new series of programs entitled “Understanding Mental Illness.”

According to Sandra Delson, QPTV’s Program Committee Chair and Board Member, “Our recent prize winning series on health care made it apparent that we had to have a separate series on Mental Health. It is a major issue which does not receive the attention and support it deserves and needs.”

The goal of this series is to promote a greater understanding of the problems created by the presence of mental illness in today’s society.

“Our mission is to educate communities about mental health and the many programs and plans that can be used to assist those with mental illnesses back to a world of family and work,” Ms. Delson adds. QPTV Director/Producer John Collins spent over a year researching, planning, shooting, and editing the six-part series, conducting more than 50 interviews. Locations included Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, Zucker Hillside Hospital, Transitional Services of New York, Pride of Judea Community Services, and Clinic Nueva Esperanza.

“Putting together a series like this is obviously a team effort and that effort started sometime ago,” Mr. Collins pointed out. “There were headlines then - as there are headlines today -linking terrible tragedies with people suffering from mental illness. We've become used to expecting the phrase ‘had a history of mental illness’ in our news reports. But the mentally ill are far more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators. And those who make the headlines have slipped through the safety nets of an overburdened mental health system, are off their medications, out of treatment - often in combination with substance abuse.

“In these programs, we argue that mental illness is just a disease, like any other disease,” he continues. “We also hope to fight the stigma, shame and fear which too often surround mental illness and stop people from seeking help and receiving proper care and support.”

After the series proposal was quickly approved by QPTV’s Program Committee and Board of Directors, work on the project began. QPTV President Daniel J. Leone convened focus groups with Ms. Delson and Mr. Collins to help refine the message and gather insights from experts in the field. “We then contacted major mental health facilities and programs in Queens to obtain their permission and cooperation to videotape on their sites with full attention to the protocols, security issues, and privacy needs of individuals involved,” Mr. Leone states. “With the ‘progression of care’ as the model for our episodes, we handpicked our crew and taping began.”

Shooting a documentary on a sensitive topic and filming sensitive subjects can become a learning experience. “We definitely learned from some of our experiences,” Mr. Collins conceded. “But with the help of some terrific liaisons at the institutions involved, we persevered and at the end of principal photography we had well over 120 hours of footage. The challenge then was to find the 2 hours and 51 minutes of story in there (the air time of the six episodes) to effectively communicate our goals to our audience. It is my hope that we have met that challenge.”

Mr. Leone added a final caution, “Several of the experts interviewed advised that anyone who is worried that they are experiencing symptoms of a mental illness or who knows someone who might be experiencing symptoms to seek help as early as possible. Today, many forms of mental illness can be treated effectively, but the earlier the intervention, the better the prognosis is for recovery. As with many other diseases, people who suffer from mental illness must receive appropriate diagnosis and medication, continue their treatments, and commit to working toward their recovery.”


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