“The way we treat [the] mentally ill in this country is insane,” says one psychiatrist in Bedlam, a new documentary that explores the inefficiencies of America’s mental health care system. Set in Los Angeles, the film gives viewers an inside look at doctors, nurses, and patients in one of the county’s overwhelmed psych ERs, examining how a history of failed public policy led to a crisis that is fueling homelessness and incarceration in the region.
The film, which recently premiered at Sundance and will air as part of PBS’s Independent Lens series in April, was inspired by the personal experiences of its director, Kenneth Paul Rosenberg, a psychiatrist whose own sister struggled with schizophrenia and then passed away. “I became a psychiatrist because of my sister, and I became a filmmaker because I wanted to understand and tell our story,” Rosenberg says in the film.
Shot over a five-year period, his film examines the “ridiculous merry-go-round” that occurs when under-resourced psych hospitals are unable to provide adequate care for patients, many of whom wind up homeless or incarcerated after they are released. Interweaving contemporary and archival footage, it digs into the root causes of the crisis, recounting how the dismantling of state mental hospitals and the defunding of community health centers resulted in a deeply broken system.
The film also follows the paths of a handful of specific patients, including Monte, the brother of Black Lives Matter and Reform L.A. Jails founder Patrisse Cullors. Cullors, who is currently advocating for a measure that seeks to overhaul mental health practices in L.A.’s jails, speaks about the “cross-section between mental health and incarceration,” and the specific impacts this crisis has on the black community in L.A. and beyond.
“L.A. is really a microcosm of what’s happening across the nation, and what happened to Monte and many of the other families are just a microcosm of what’s happening to millions of other families,” Cullors said in a recent Chronicle interview about the film. “For our family, we really should have had early intervention. Monte showed signs of mental health issues as a teenager, and instead of receiving intervention, he received criminalization.”
In advance of Bedlam‘s April 13 premiere on PBS, Reform L.A. Jails will stage a fundraiser event at the Hollywood Palladium on January 20, featuring live performances by Coldplay and Boogie, along with talks by Cullors and America Ferrera.