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Santa Clarita man produces one solution to mental health stigmas

Local makes film designed to spur conversations about finding, providing help at community level

Posted: April 20, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: April 20, 2014 2:00 a.m.

Cast and crew, professionals who volunteered their work, help Producer Pete Van shoot a zero-budget mental health awareness film in Canyon Country in early April.

Through the lens of a camera, Pete Van watched pounds of trash pile up on the floor, as Coke bottles layered upon crumpled family records in a Santa Clarita residence.

Actors rehearsed their lines — words of a friend reaching out to a struggling man — carefully written to communicate a social message.

A physical symbol of a mental process, the trash in Van’s film represents unhealthy choices or self-talk in our lives, he said, from addictions to thoughts of suicide to negative ideas about body image.

Not driven by a fast-paced story line or an A-list cast, the Canyon Country resident’s film aspires to much more than entertainment.

Throughout his life, Van has noticed the hush and stigma surrounding mental health issues, from trauma to abuse to addiction to depression.

As a former pastor, Van heard the hardships of his parishioners without having a platform to do more than listen and comfort.

Moved by the suicide of a fellow parishioner, Van has now found his role in solving the larger problem.

With the support of professionals who volunteered their work, he produced a zero-budget mental health awareness film in Canyon Country in early April.

Now in post-production, Van plans to present the film in different cities as part of an interactive workshop to start the conversation about addressing mental health disorders.

How it started

Van was first drawn to spreading awareness for mental health disorders because of personal experience.

“In my own family, there were individuals with mental health illnesses that were never addressed,” Van said. “They’ve been in the family for so long that it became normal, but it shouldn’t be normal.”

Later, the suicide of a young parishioner caused Van to take a closer look at how his church was addressing mental health concerns.

He felt the church offered repentance and prayer without providing avenues to address the disorder itself, Van said.

While spiritual healing is also needed, Van wanted to provide a solution that addressed the cause of the actions, and not just the actions themselves, he said.

“I’m always interested in the long-term view,” he said. “I wanted to do something to address it — to come up with an alternate solution for treating mental health issues.”

Story line

Based on main character Eddy’s struggle with bad choices, the story line follows a friend’s attempts to aid Eddy find help.

The film opens up in Eddy’s home, as he fills his life with drugs, alcohol and negative thoughts.

“Before he knew it, Eddy had all this trash in his life,” Van said. “He wasn’t paying attention to the direction his life was moving.”

As he pushes away treatment, trash piles up in his home, covering every inch of the floor.

“It’s a physical representation of the mental process you need to go through,” Van said.

“We create enormous amounts of trash – both physical and mental – every day,” Van continued. “It’s important that we create systems and structure to take out the trash in our lives.”

Like taking a weekly or daily self inventory, Van encourages people to be aware of the negative thoughts or actions they bring into their lives.

“Once it gets to the point of a mental health disorder, it’s cluttering up your environment, and you’ll drown in it. We need to take that out of our lives,” he said.

Making an impact

In addition to urging people to be aware and proactive on an individual level, Van hopes the film encourages people to remove the stigma and the hush on a societal level.

To communicate this message, Eddy’s friend acts as an example for those who want to reach out but aren’t sure how, Van said.

“We all know someone who is dealing with mental health issues because depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses affect nearly all American families in some way,” Van said. “Still, many people are reluctant to talk about these issues.”

“We’ve created a culture where it’s not OK to talk about it or seek help,” Van continued. “I hope this films helps people learn the skills we need to create an open environment for mental health conversations.”

Van plans to use the film in interactive workshop settings, pausing the film at points to engage audiences in pointed discussion. Through these conversations, Van hopes to develop recommendations for local solutions to those affected by mental health disorders.

His first screening is scheduled for May 2 at the Christian Ministries Training Association Annual Convention in Pasadena. For more information, visit


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