Submission Category

Through the Lens of Culture: Mental Health Matters

Being a young person is already difficult, even without a global pandemic.  Right now, we are living through history, which can bring on a lot of feelings and impact our mental health.

Research shows that half of all mental illnesses start by age 14 and three-quarters start by age 24. But, an average of 6 to 8 years pass after the symptoms of mental illness begin before young people get help. Entering a film in this category provides you with an opportunity to share the truth about mental health and the importance of supporting a friend to get help. Sometimes the most important first step is to end the silence about mental illness and openly talk about it. Your film can help start these conversations!

By submitting a film in the Through the Lens of Culture – Mental Health Matters category, young filmmakers are encouraged to explore the topic of mental health in their lives. We especially want to encourage youth to consider discussing mental health through the lens of a particular culture. There are many different definitions for culture, but here is the one we use to provide direction to our filmmakers: Culture is the characteristics and perspectives of a particular group of people, defined by everything from language, ethnicity, nationality, religion, cuisine, social habits, sexual orientation, a shared experience, music, arts and more. And when it comes to mental health, culture can influence how and if we talk about these topics, whether or not we seek help, what kind of help, and from whom.

Films are encouraged in any language, including sign language, but must include captioning.

Getting Started!

  • Review submission criteria below
  • Review the official judging form to score the highest possible points
  • Review educational resources and lesson plans to prepare your script and story for your PSA.
  • Include a title slide and end slate with your film. You may use this title slide template or you may create your own title slide as long as it includes the required information.
  • Films must be 60-seconds in length (this includes the required end slate but does not include the required title slide).
  • All films need to include captioning. Films are encouraged to be submitted in languages other than English, but all films in this category are required to include captioning, even if the film is in English. See bottom of this page for tips.
  • Films need to be about young people (14-25).  Please keep in mind that the film does not have to solely focus on youth; however, youth need to have some kind of role or voice in the film.  Keep in mind that the person in the film with mental illness does not have to be in the youth age range, but the film must depict how the youth can support the person with mental illness (i.e. students supporting a teacher with mental illness).

Content Scoring Measures:

You are in a unique position to give people who are living with mental health challenges what they, just like anyone else, truly deserve – friendship, support, or simply a respectful conversation – that helps them live a full and productive life.

1. Films should tell a positive and educational story that encourages young people to reach out for support when they need it, show them how to support others, and/or inspire the viewer to join the mental health movement to create more equitable and supportive communities. The film shouldhave a positive and informative message of support, acceptance, hope, and/or recovery related to mental health challenges. We are looking to you to tell a story about learning more about mental health, getting help, or how to support a friend or family member that is going through tough times.

Check out the “For Youth”  provides examples of how someone can offer support to a friend or family member who is experiencing a mental illness, as well as some guidelines for reaching out to someone who shows symptoms of a mental illness

2. Films must use person-first language, which refers to people who are living with mental health challenges as part of their full-life experience, not people who are defined by their mental health challenges. Using person-first language respectfully puts the person before the illness.  Using such language reinforces the idea that despite what people with mental illness experience, they are still people!  Using person-first language helps steer clear of stigmatizing language that may lead to discriminatory ideals. View this youth-produced film for more information:  The Beauty of Mental Health.

Use: Do not use:
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I am bipolar.
She is experiencing a mental health challenge. She is mentally ill.
People living with mental health challenges. The mentally ill.
He has schizophrenia. He is schizophrenic.
She experiences symptoms of depression. She suffers from depression.

3. Films should communicate a message that inspires the viewer to take action. Think of it this way:  After someone watches your film what do you want them to do? How do you want them to feel, act or think differently?   Here are a few examples of messages your film could communicate. 

Talk openly. Your film can emphasize that it is acceptable to talk about mental health challenges, and to support friends and loved ones with such challenges. Stigma and fear thrive in silence, so why not use your film to show people having difficult conversations, being honest about their experiences, saying the things people are afraid to talk about. Don’t just say “It’s okay to talk,” show the viewer how to do it.

Stand up for others. Your film can demonstrate the importance of young people standing up for themselves or those living with a mental health challenge who are being harassed, bullied, and excluded or in some other way discriminated against.  This may also include interactions in online communities (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, texting). Some specific examples you can offer might include:

  • Point it out if a friend makes an insensitive comment about people experiencing mental illness.
  • Avoid using words such as “crazy”, “psycho” or “nuts” to describe someone with mental illness.
  • Have conversations with friends or family members about the importance of mental health and supporting those with mental health challenges.

Be supportive. Show ways in which friend or family members can support someone experiencing a mental health challenge. Visit the Submission Toolbox for additional information, but here are a few examples you can highlight in your film:

  • Listen or talk with them
  • Ask what you can do for help
  • Provide emotional support; “be there”
  • Reassure your friend or family member that you still care about him/her
  • Educate yourself about your friend or family member’s illness
  • Connect your friend or family member to resources and encourage help-seeking
  • Let them know help is available
  • Maintain a non-judgmental attitude; accept them for who they are
  • Support your friend or family member’s healthy behaviors, such as exercising or getting enough sleep
  • Speak up if they are being teased or bullied

Get the facts. Your film could illustrate that a diagnosis of mental illness does not define a person and to debunk the myths that say mental illness is something to fear or to ignore.

  • Once a person has a mental illness they will never be well enough to live a productive life.
  • Recovery is possible. A person experiencing mental health challenges can live a happy, successful and productive life.
  • Anyone can experience a mental illness at some point in their lives. In fact, 1 in 5 people experience a mental health challenge in their lifetime.

Don’t wait to get help. Your film can let people know that there is help out there for people living with a mental illness. That treatment and support work and that most people who experience a mental health challenge can recover, especially if treated early. Approximately 1 in 5 youth ages 13 to 18 experiences a mental health challenge, but young people wait 6 to 8 years from the onset of symptoms before getting help.

Ways to cope with challenges such as the coronavirus, and how to practice self-care. Being a young person is already difficult, even without a global pandemic. And a lot of youth are facing more, including not feeling safe at home or in the community, financial uncertainty, and worrying about family and friends that are considered part of the essential workforce. Right now, we are living through history, which can bring on a lot of feelings. What are you experiencing and how are you coping? Create a film that shares your story and encourages others to find their own way to get through tough times. What helps you get through tough times?

Demonstrate how cultural groups can provide support and strength when dealing with mental health challenges or emotional crises.  For example, traditions, healing practices, and other support from our culture can be protective and positively impact our mental health. Your film could dispel myths and misconceptions about mental health that might be prevalent in a particular culture and show that seeking help is not shameful, mental illnesses are common and treatable, and recovery is possible.

Explore generational differences. The way we think about and talk about mental health can be influenced by generational differences between grandparents and parents, or parents and children. To educate an older generation about acceptance or about the importance of supporting young people’s mental health and getting help, you might want to consider creating your film in their primary language and to think about specific views and terms about mental health that they have grown up with.

Tip! We encourage you to view some of the films that were submitted in past years:

What Not To Do!

Films should avoid sending the message that any particular culture is more at risk for suicide or more likely to develop mental illness.

  • People from all cultures are affected by mental illness and suicide. It is important that the message of the film does not reinforce negative stereotypes. For example, the film should not insinuate that just by being part of a culture or group, a person is more likely to attempt suicide or have a mental illness. By using data inappropriately, or making generalities, the film might inadvertently increase stigma or reduce protective factors around suicide.
  • For example, avoid making statements that people from a particular group are more at risk to develop a mental illness or more likely to attempt suicide.
  • Remember that it is okay to talk about life problems and cultural factors that may impact a person’s ability to talk about their problems or seek help or that increase a person’s risk for suicide such as family issues (pressure to succeed, acculturation, gender identity) or social issues (bullying, break-ups). And to talk about these issues and life problems as a possible contributing factor to why a young person might be feeling hopeless, drinking more or isolating themselves (which are warning signs for suicide), but the film should not point to just one of these events as the cause of suicide.  The truth is that not one of these events causes suicide and usually a person is dealing with multiple tough situations and is showing warning signs.

Potentially Disqualifying Content:

1. Films cannot use terms like “crazy” and “psycho” without explicitly communicating to the audience that these terms are unacceptable. If the film does not verbally communicate that using derogatory terms are unwelcome, the film will be disqualified. Our recommendation is to avoid labels of any kind in order to keep the message positive. Some labels to avoid are:

Mentally IllCuckooEmontionally Disturbed
Labels to Avoid

Why this matters:  It is important that films do not reinforce stereotypes and labels that could keep people from seeking help. Although there are many ways to show disapproval when using derogatory terms (i.e. body language), it is important to verbally communicate that using such terms is hurtful and inappropriate.

2. Films cannot include portrayals of suicide deaths or attempts (such as a person jumping off a building or bridge, or holding a gun to their head). Portraying suicide attempts and means, even in dramatization, can increase the chances of an attempt by someone who might be thinking about suicide and exposed to the film. Films should also avoid showing actions or steps leading up to an attempt (i.e., standing on a bridge, or holding pills).

3. Films cannot include developmental disabilities such as Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, etc. Though the difference between development disabilities and mental illness is not cut and dry, it is best to avoid making a film about developmental disabilities and instead focus on mental health and/or mental health challenges. Mental health challenges common to young people include: Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Eating Disorders, self-harm, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as well as issues that may not have a diagnosis, but have challenging symptoms that deserve attention and care.

4. Films should be sensitive to racial, ethnic, religious, sexual orientation and gender differences, with all individuals realistically and respectfully depicted.

5. Films should be careful not to accidentally reinforce stereotypes of people living with a mental health challenge such as: being dangerous or violent, disabled or homeless, helpless, or being personally to blame for their condition. Although popular culture and the media often associate mental illness with crime or acting violently, people living with mental illness are more likely to be victims of crime. It is important to steer clear of perpetuating myths and stereotypes in order to produce an accurate, respectful, and mindful film.