AUSTIN, Texas—The struggles facing Texas children with mental illnesses are the focus of a new documentary titled “Are the Kids Alright?” scheduled for broadcast on public television stations across the state on June 24 (check local listings for time and station).
State officials estimate that some 420,000 Texas youths under the age of 18 suffer from a severe emotional disturbance that impairs their ability to function, but only a fraction of these children are appropriately diagnosed or treated each year.
The documentary portrays not only the steep obstacles and painful choices confronting families who have a loved one suffering from mental illness, but also the daily struggles of mental health advocates, service providers and policymakers in trying to help these youths get appropriate treatment.
Produced by award-winning documentarians Karen Bernstein and Ellen Spiro of Austin, the film is the result of an expansive partnership among a number of funders and organizations, including The University of Texas at Austin’s Hogg Foundation for Mental Health and Department of Radio-Television-Film; KUHT-TV HoustonPBS; the Houston Endowment; and the Austin Film Society.
In addition, the Meadows Foundation of Dallas has provided support for the development of a comprehensive public information campaign conducted through the Hogg Foundation to raise public awareness of children’s mental health issues in Texas, improve understanding about the appropriate diagnosis and treatment of emotional disorders, and describe the gaps within the fractured public mental health system in the state.
In conjunction with the documentary, several PBS stations are producing their own broadcasts and/or events about children’s mental health issues in their communities. KACV-Amarillo, KMBH-Harlingen, KOCV-Odessa and KLRU-Austin are producing special programming to follow the broadcast that will include local mental health professionals, families and advocates discussing the issues specific to their area. KUHT-Houston is also doing a special hour-long broadcast, as well as having an information and referral hotline available during the broadcast for people to call in with questions.
“In the course of making this documentary, we found that children with severe emotional disorders are a hidden segment of the population in Texas,” said Bernstein. “Although we connected with families from different backgrounds and regions in the state, their stories were surprisingly similar. All of them faced frustrations, misunderstandings and a lack of resources in trying to get help for their children.”
The outreach effort will include informational brochures, an extensive Web site and a media information campaign to draw and focus public attention on the issue of severe emotional disturbances in children. Funds will also be used to facilitate public meetings about the topic following the premiere broadcast of the documentary on public television stations across the state.