For many long years, this American doctor battled the shame of having a schizophrenic father—but that seems a lifetime ago. Now, she has travelled the world, including India, to raise awareness and dispel the myths associated with mental ailments, through her documentary Hidden Pictures.
The film by Delaney Ruston, a Stanford-trained physician, film-maker and Fulbright-Nehru scholar research fellow, was screened in Delhi recently. It tries to prompt people, whether layman or experts, to talk about mental health with greater maturity and attempts to “chip off” the layers to get to the “core of the issue”. “I felt a lot of shame growing up as a teenager when my father had these conditions. But, after he committed suicide in 2006 in front of me, I confronted myself and it made me want to go and understand the mental conditions of people around the world, so I made this film,” says Delaney.
The film, Ruston’s second after her multi-award winning PBS documentary, Unlisted: A Story of Schizophrenia, on her father, saw her travelling from India to China, Nepal, Africa and France, and left her “with many surprises”, dispelling “many myths”.
“I came to India about two-three years ago for shooting this film and I couldn’t find a family willing to talk about mental health, until a family did agree to face the camera,” says Ruston.
“According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 450 million people globally suffer from mental disorders. Eighty per cent of them go without treatment and of the funds allocated, 1% finds it for mental health. And travelling to countries like India, known for strong family ties, I found the ‘affected’ being treated with equal disdain,” she says.
In France, she says, she found people with mental conditions being ostracized. The patient from France in the film said he felt he was being treated like a parasite, says the doctor-cum-film-maker.
So, why did this 1995 Stanford University graduate in medicine choose to gravitate towards film-making? She picked up formal training while she was doing her internal medicine residency in San Francisco in 1998. Family friends who were documentary film-makers did inspire her. “But I would say my curiosity is most directed towards human conditions and I wanted to convey the pain of these suffering people and elicit empathy from the audience and people in general,” says Ruston.