Guest Blogger- Lisa Ford
The Show Me Justice Film Festival is on April 7th and 8th at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, Missouri. As the festival approaches, guest blogger Lisa Ford discusses The Wish Horse, an official selection of the 2016 Show Me Justice Film Festival.
Lisa Ford is a filmmaker who teaches at SUNY – Tompkins Cortland Community College in Central New York.
The Wish Horse unfolds as we witness Russell, 14, and his 6 year-old sister, Kitty, growing up with a mentally ill parent. When a foal is born on a neighboring farm, Kitty believes the foal is a magical Wish Horse.
My inspiration for this short film was an image I saw on a farm – a mother horse standing guard over her newborn foal as it naps in a grassy field. I knew I wanted to tell a story about a complex family relationship, and eventually I came up with this story about the effects on children when a parent has a mental illness.
Researchers are not yet certain how many COPMI (children of parents with mental illness) there are in the United States. However, conservative estimates suggest that “approximately one million parents of children under the age of 18 have psychiatric disabilities” according to “Critical Issues for Parents With Mental Illness and Their Families,” by Nicholson, Biebel, Hinden, Henry, and Stier. The children often live in the shadows because most programs focus on treating the individual parent rather than the family as a whole.
I’ve been invited to screen the film for health care groups, and health care workers often tell me they wish treatment approaches were holistic, but current systems make a family-centered approach difficult. Programs should be developed that recognize the challenges and strengths of the parents and children as well as how the stigma of mental illness can affect families. As we see in The Wish Horse, children may be living in isolation, fear and confusion; on the other hand, these children and their parents can develop resilience, strength, empathy, and creativity. Children use magical thinking to cope with challenges and often take on adult roles within the family. We know this is true based on the testimony of adult survivors.
Making this film has deepened my understanding and appreciation for the connection between art and social issues. At a recent screening, a woman came up to me after the Q&A and said, “Thank you. I’ve never seen my childhood story on the screen before.” This was a tremendously moving moment for me that has deepened my resolve to explore social justice for families with mental health challenges.