The words “birds with perfectly symmetrical feathers cannot fly” flashed across a movie screen last month in the USC Engemann Student Health Center, where Trojans and mental health professionals gathered to watch and discuss the short film Crooked Beauty.
The screen flickered with black-and-white images of barren trees, rolling fog and wind whipping through tall grass. The narrator declared: “If I was determined to live my life in a city and to work a really intensive, steady job in an office, I think I would have to take medication to do that. But I don’t think that fact means I have a disease.”
The screening was hosted by the nonprofit Art With Impact, which holds a monthly contest offering a $1,000 cash prize for short films about mental health. Funded by California Proposition 63, the organization then screens the winning films and leads panel discussions on college campuses across the United States.
After the film drew to a close, Cary McQueen, executive director of Art With Impact, invited the audience to break into groups of three to discuss their thoughts, feelings and reactions. She then screened Rinse and Repeat, a film narrated by a man with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and Always Hope, the story of a stranger who intervenes in a near suicide.
“When you’re going through some of these feelings that we saw in these movies, it’s a very scary step to walk into someone’s office to get help,” said Ilene Rosenstein, director of USC Student Counseling Services. “The best way for us to reach out is by forming a connection with the person who is struggling and giving hope, which has been the message of these films. People do want to feel better, but they also don’t want to lose themselves in the process.”
Following the screenings, Monica Castaneda-Garcia, a student at California State University, Fullerton, shared her personal experience of major depression with psychosis.
“What helped me through the whole recovery process were all the people around me who supported me,” she said. “And so I just want to say to any of you in the room — who might be feeling hopeless or in pain — that there is hope.”
The audience received additional information about how to promote mental health from a distinguished panel of professionals.
“People feel like sometimes nobody wants to hear, and no one’s going to help me, but really, there are people who want to help,” said panelist Kathleen Piché, public affairs director for the Los Angeles Department of Mental Health.
At USC, the Trojan Family continues to take care of its own. Panelist Lynette Merriman, senior associate dean for USC Student Affairs, shared information about the resources available to students through departments on campus, including Student Counseling Services and Student Support and Advocacy.
Andrea Torres, director of Student Support and Advocacy, said that she and her department colleagues aren’t mental health professionals.
“But we have a big heart: We care; we’re sensitive,” she said. “We’re certainly going to listen. So we can get students to the appropriate help that they need.”
Several panelists also mentioned Trojans Care for Trojans, a USC Student Affairs website that provides an an anonymous online reporting form for students to express their concerns about other members of the Trojan Family.
“The counseling services, as well as other folks here, are doing a great job,” Merriman said, “and word is out there that we’re here to help and we do care.”