About the Project
MINDS ON THE EDGE: Facing Mental Illness is a multi-platform media project that explores severe mental illness in America.

The centerpiece of the project is a television program airing on PBS stations in October 2009. This video component is part of a national initiative that includes extensive web content with tools for civic engagement, active social media on Facebook and Twitter, and an ambitious strategy to engage citizens, professionals in many fields, and policy makers at all levels of government. The goal is to advance consensus about how to improve the kinds of support and treatment available for people with mental illness.

The television program MINDS ON THE EDGE: Facing Mental Illness effectively illuminates challenging ethical issues as well as systemic flaws in program and policy design, service coordination, and resource allocation. These problems are contributing to a mental health system that is widely acknowledged to be broken. MINDS ON THE EDGE also provides a glimpse of innovative solutions that are currently being implemented across the country. These innovations, many shaped by the guidance and expertise of people with mental illness, offer promising solutions and hopeful direction to transform the mental health system.

The last decade has seen great advances in understanding mental illness, and scientists are making exciting new discoveries every year. Approaching mental illness as a medical illness – like cancer or heart disease – scientists are working to develop new and better treatments, methods for early diagnosis, strategies for prevention, and the possibility of a cure. NARSAD, a charity dedicated to supporting scientific research in mental health, partnered with MINDS ON THE EDGE to provide web content about schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and research that is advancing the frontiers of knowledge about these brain disorders.

Strides have also been made in many areas of the criminal justice system to intercept people with mental illness and redirect them into treatment programs instead of incarceration. The Council of State Governments Justice Center, one of the organizations that has been at the forefront of this effort, allowed MINDS ON THE EDGE to draw on their data and resources for content presented here about the intersection of mental illness and the criminal justice system.

The MINDS ON THE EDGE project is designed as a media catalyst to contribute to the conversation already underway in America and help to move it forward. The program, which is being widely distributed in DVD format, will be screened and discussed by civic groups, professional organizations, and leaders in government as a tool to engage the issues posed by severe mental illness and work together to find effective answers to this hidden crisis in America. NAMI, the National Alliance for Mental Illness, along with leading professional organizations like the American Psychiatric Association and U.S. Psychiatric Congress, have been active partners in this grassroots effort. The results of the civic engagement campaign are reported on in IMPACT.

Program Synopsis
Panelist Fred Frese
MINDS ON THE EDGE: Facing Mental Illness connects the dots between personal dilemmas facing individuals and families who are living with mental illness, medical practices that can be obstacles to treatment, and public policies that all too often fall short in providing support that could make a positive difference.

The one-hour television program zeros in on wrenching and confounding situations that are playing out every day in homes and hospital ERs, on city streets and school campuses, in courtrooms and in jails, as Americans struggle with the challenges of severe mental illness.

Produced for PBS by the Fred Friendly Seminars using their signature format of a hypothetical scenario, the program considers the case of a college student who develops mental illness while at school. Her professor knows something is wrong, but is unsure how to approach her and whether it is even legal to contact her parents. Upset and confused when they see their daughter, her parents do not know where to turn and are shocked to discover how limited their options are when they try to seek medical help.

The program also explores the circumstances of an adult who has coped with his mental illness until his mother dies, and then he is left without critical support. As his mental health unravels, and he is unable to get treatment or maintain his home, he is arrested for a minor crime and absorbed into the criminal justice system. For him it is the beginning of a merry-go-round of homelessness and jail that has become all too common for many individuals who are living with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other severe mental illnesses.

Moderator Frank Sesno
Moderator Frank Sesno, unfolds this story and asks the program panelists to put themselves in the shoes of these hypothetical characters and talk about what they would do if faced with this situation. The distinguished panel includes U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Nobel Prize winning neurologist Eric Kandel, along with attorneys, doctors, legislators and other experts in the field. Several of the panelists have personal, as well as professional experience, in living with mental illness.