Meet the Producers: Phylis Geller
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What drew you to this project, and why do you think it's important?
For me, the goal of any television project is to help people learn something, or experience something, that can have an impact on their lives. Depression is so widespread; the figures for women are 1 in 5, and I can see that reflected among the women I know. With the program and the outreach campaign, I believe we can offer people significant ways to improve their standard of living.
What is the most vital thing viewers will learn from this film?
The main points we want people to grasp are that depression is a medical disease, that there should be no guilt attached to it, and that good, effective treatments are available. People need to know they are not alone; friends and loved ones need to understand what a person with depression is experiencing.
During your work on the project, you encountered a lot of stigma around depression and other mental health disorders. Why do you think it exists, and do you think it will ever abate?
The difficulty lies both with the person who has depression and with the larger society. Individuals too often want to "tough it out," and those around them still say "snap out of it." These phrases are irrelevant and need to be purged from the discourse. This disease needs medical treatment, like cancer or diabetes. It is not a matter of will power.
One very important issue is that health insurance in the U.S. does not offer parity between mental health and other illnesses. This contributes to the perception that mental health is somehow a lesser problem. When public policy acknowledges depression as a medical illness, it will help change the cultural perception.
There are many elements to this project beyond the film itself that are designed to raise awareness about depression, and keep the subject top of mind in communities and in homes. Can you talk about the Web and outreach components of DEPRESSION: Out of the Shadows?
A broadcast is only one component of a project like DEPRESSION. We are committed to continuing the impact of the work "beyond broadcast." We are spearheading a widespread national outreach campaign, including community summits and other public events; we will do aggressive marketing and promotion to universities and to the general public; the project Web site is substantial and easily navigable. With these efforts, we can be assured that this critical information becomes available to millions of people nationwide, and remains so long after the program premieres.
What surprised you most while working on DEPRESSION: Out of the Shadows?
I'm surprised how many educated and sophisticated people still feel uncomfortable if someone acknowledges that they have depression, or that it runs in their family. I also hear people say they don't want to take any meds, yet they'd fill themselves with antibiotics if they had a cold. Maybe it's generational; I hope that younger people will be more accepting that this is a common and treatable disease. Also, Baby Boomers grew up in a world with psychotherapy, much more than their parents did. As the Boomers age, I think they will demand more attention to mental health issues in the elderly.
You've produced films on almost every topic conceivable, including a lot of health and science programming. How did the subject of depression compare to these other health-focused projects?
When people ask what I'm up to, I describe the various shows I'm working on. People nod and say "Uh-huh, interesting" to the other subjects. When I mention depression, they all perk up and proceed to ask twenty questions. There is a great need for this program.
What's the most exciting development on the horizon for depression research?
The most important thing is that there is research, and that it be funded to continue. Clearly, brain imaging has the potential to unlock more secrets about depression and other mental illnesses. By changing public perceptions, we can help create the political will to keep research programs alive.