Bradford (Buddy) Clayman is a 47-year-old, white, upper-middle-class, Jewish only child from Philadelphia. While awkward and teased as an adolescent, it was not until the end of high school and during his time as a film and TV student at Temple University that he developed major mental illness. He reports that he has all the conditions listed in the movie's subtitle, and I suppose he did. OC87 refers to the year 1987, when his obsessional disorder drove him into full retreat from a life with people.
The movie depicts how loving (even if divorced) parents, unceasing support, safe and reliable housing, good, continuous treatment with dedicated therapists, and medications enable a person like Buddy, with emotionally crushing, complex and potentially disabling (forever) mental disorders, to enter a path of recovery -- even after over 20 years of serious illness. He defines recovery as life with and despite illness. This is what recovery has come to mean in the mental health community, though many are familiar with its roots in the world of addictions. It's heartening to observe what can be achieved, as Buddy did -- and as he so honestly, modestly and touchingly portrays in this documentary about himself.
Reviews in the Huffington Post, the New York Times, the New York Daily News, even NPR, praised Mr. Clayman's film for its unsparing look at what goes on in the mind of a person flooded with obsessions and fears while also sustaining hope that a life can be rebuilt. My hat, as well, is off to him for allowing us to be witnesses on the road of his recovery. So many people with serious mental illness, and their families, need to see success and appreciate that persistence and hard work can make a difference.
Buddy spent almost eight years as a young man in his 20s in a residential treatment program in Pennsylvania. In the film, we see how lovely the setting is and how caretaking is its clinical director, who remarked that she admitted him when he first arrived. We join what seem like current therapy sessions with his psychologist, who even gets out of his office to help his patient confront and master the real world. We go on outings with him and his friends; a funny one was to a speed dating bar in Philadelphia. We meet Buddy's dad, who gave him work and unwavering emotional support; we spend time with Buddy and his mom, whose love and humor are wonderful to behold. His parents financed this movie.
But what about those not as privileged as Bud Clayman? Those without loving parents and financial resources? Those who worry day to day about where they will sleep, or can sleep safely? Where their meals will come from? Who have little understanding about treatment or how to access it, much less with expert therapists, even residential programs? What about those people? They are legion, in far greater numbers than those fortunate by birth and circumstance to have had the advantages that Bud Clayman did.
Buddy has been the recipient of what all people with a serious and persistent mental illness require: careful, continuous clinical care; supportive family and friends; stable and safe housing; opportunities for school and work; and sustained hope in his capacity to build a life of contribution in his community. The challenge for our society is how these essential ingredients can be delivered to all who need it, regardless of social and economic standing.
Unfortunately, in this country (and many others) we are far from meeting and succeeding on that challenge. Fewer than one in five people in the U.S. are properly diagnosed and effectively treated (with accessible services and treatments proven effective and delivered in respectful and continuous ways). The results are all too evident: overuse of expensive emergency and hospital services; shocking and unnecessary street homelessness; shelters, jails and prisons 'housing' people with mental illness; reliance on welfare and disability payments; and disrupted families and communities. The Claymans did not face these problems, but "there but by the grace of God" they could have.
Bud Clayman has given us a message of hope. But for those that look beyond him and his family, we are left with the inescapable task of making what was possible for him possible for everyone so afflicted. A quality, accessible, accountable public mental health system, fully integrated with health, housing and social services, is the safety net for those who will not by birth have what Buddy did. National and state health and mental health reform underway right now provide a unique time for us to do more of what we know can work. We owe that to the other Buddys of this country.
The opinions expressed here are solely mine as a psychiatrist and public health advocate. I receive no support from any pharmaceutical or device company.
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