Mental Health


Research shows that half of all mental illnesses start by age 14 and three-quarters start by age 24. But, an average of 6 to 8 years pass after the symptoms of mental illness begin, before young people get help. Entering a film in this category provides you with an opportunity to share the truth about mental health and the importance of supporting a friend to get help. Sometimes the most important first step is to end the silence about mental illness and openly talk about it. Your film can help start these conversations!

To ensure you score the highest possible points in this category and for important background information, tools, and requirements review these links:

Check out this video for a brief overview of the Mental Health submission category

Content Scoring Measures: 

You are in a unique position to give people who are living with mental health challenges what they, just like anyone else, truly deserve – friendship, support, or simply a respectful conversation – that helps them live a full and productive life.

1. Films should tell a positive and educational story that encourages young people to reach out for support when they need it, show them how to support others, and/or inspire the viewer to join the mental health movement to create more equitable and supportive communities.   The film should have a positive and informative message of support, acceptance, hope, and/or recovery related to mental health challenges. We are looking to you to tell a story about learning more about mental health, getting help, or how to support a friend or family member that is going through tough times.

This fact sheet provides examples of how someone can offer support to a friend or family member who is experiencing a mental illness, as well as some guidelines for reaching out to someone who shows symptoms of a mental illness.

2. Films should communicate a message that inspires the viewer to take action. Think of it this way:  After someone watches your film what do you want them to do? How do you want them to feel, act or think differently?   Here are a few examples of messages your film could communicate.

  • Talk openly. Your film can emphasize that it is acceptable to talk about mental health challenges and to support friends and loved ones with such challenges. Stigma and fear thrive in silence, so why not use your film to show people having difficult conversations, being honest about their experiences, and saying the things people are afraid to talk about. Don’t just say “It’s okay to talk,” show the viewer how to do it.
  • Stand up for others. Your film can demonstrate the importance of young people standing up for themselves or those living with a mental health challenge who are being harassed, bullied, and excluded, or in some other way discriminated against.  This may also include interactions in online communities (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, texting). Some specific examples you can offer might include:
    • Point it out if a friend makes an insensitive comment about people experiencing mental illness.
    • Avoid using words such as “crazy”, “psycho” or “nuts” to describe someone with mental illness.
    • Have conversations with friends or family members about the importance of mental health and supporting those with mental health challenges.
  • Be supportive. Show ways in which friends or family members can support someone experiencing a mental health challenge. Visit the Submission Toolbox for additional information, but here are a few examples you can highlight in your film:
    • Listen or talk with them
    • Ask what you can do to help
    • Provide emotional support; “be there”
    • Reassure your friend or family member that you still care about him/her
    • Educate yourself about your friend or family member’s illness
    • Connect your friend or family member to resources and encourage help-seeking
    • Let them know help is available
    • Maintain a non-judgmental attitude; accept them for who they are
    • Support your friend or family member’s healthy behaviors, such as exercising or getting enough sleep
    • Speak up if they are being teased or bullied
  • Become a mental health advocate. This is a young adult’s issue: mental health challenges most often show up between the ages of 14-24. Show youth wearing the lime green ribbon, telling their story, and using their voice (by speaking up on social media, voting, volunteering in their community) to help create a more equitable California. To learn how to get support for your mental health and help others, visit and share the website as a resource in your film.

  • Get the facts. Your film could illustrate that a diagnosis of mental illness does not define a person and debunk the myths that say mental illness is something to fear or ignore.
    • Fact: Recovery is possible. A person experiencing mental health challenges can live a happy, successful, and productive life.
    • Fact: Anyone can experience a mental illness at some point in their lives. In fact, 1 in 5 people experience a mental health challenge in their lifetime.
  • Don’t wait to get help. Your film can let people know that there is help out there for people living with a mental illness. That treatment and support work and that most people who experience a mental health challenge can recover, especially if treated early. Approximately 1 in 5 youth ages 13 to 18 experiences a mental health challenge, but young people wait 6 to 8 years from onset of symptoms before getting help.

3. Films must use person-first language, which refers to people who are living with mental health challenges as part of their full-life experience, not people who are defined by their mental health challenges.  Using person-first language respectfully puts the person before the illness.  Using such language reinforces the idea that despite what people with mental illness experience, they are still people!  Using person-first language helps steer clear of stigmatizing language that may lead to discriminatory ideals.

Use:  Do not use:
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  I am bipolar.
She is experiencing a mental health challenge.  She is mentally ill.
People living with mental health challenges.   The mentally ill.
He has schizophrenia.  He is schizophrenic.
She experiences symptoms of depression.  She suffers from depression.

4. Films need to be about young people (12-25).  Please keep in mind that the film does not have to solely focus on youth; however, youth need to have some kind of role or voice in the film.  Keep in mind that the person in the film with mental illness does not have to be in the youth age range, but the film must depict how the youth can support the person with mental illness (i.e. students supporting a teacher with mental illness).

Why this matters: Too often young people wait a long time from the time they first experience symptoms of mental illness to the time they get help. This delay can lead to worsening of all the problems associated with stigma, further taunting, and increasing mental health challenges. It is important to create a film that speaks to youth and emphasizes that the sooner that someone gets help, the less time a person suffers in silence.

Disqualifying Content:

1. Films cannot use terms like “crazy” and “psycho” without explicitly communicating to the audience that these terms are unacceptable. If the film does not verbally communicate that using derogatory terms are unwelcome, the film will be disqualified. Our recommendation is to avoid labels of any kind in order to keep the message positive. Some labels to avoid are:

Mentally ill                                   Cuckoo
Emotionally disturbed               Maniac
Insane                                            Lunatic
Crazy                                              Looney
Odd                                                Wacko

Why this matters:  It is important that films do not reinforce stereotypes and labels that could keep people from seeking help. Although there are many ways to show disapproval when using derogatory terms (i.e. body language), it is important to verbally communicate that using such terms is hurtful and inappropriate. For more information on stigmatizing words and how to avoid using them, visit

2. Films cannot include developmental disabilities such as Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, etc. Though the difference between development disabilities and mental illness is not cut and dry, it is best to avoid making a film about developmental disabilities and instead focus on mental health and/or mental health challenges.  Mental health challenges common to young people include: Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Eating Disorders, self-harm, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as well as issues that may not have a diagnosis, but have challenging symptoms that deserve attention and care. For a comprehensive list, please visit

3. Films should be sensitive to racial, ethnic, religious, sexual orientation and gender differences, with all individuals realistically and respectfully depicted.

4. Films should be careful not to accidentally reinforce stereotypes of people living with a mental health challenge such as: being dangerous or violent, disabled or homeless, helpless, or being personally to blame for their condition. Although popular culture and the media often associate mental illness with crimes or acting violently, people living with mental illness are more likely to be victims of crime. It is important to steer clear of perpetuating myths and stereotypes in order to produce an accurate, respectful, and mindful film.

If you are experiencing an emotional crisis, are thinking about suicide or are concerned about a friend call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately: 1-800-273-8255This is a free 24-hour hotline.
Directing Change is part of statewide efforts to prevent suicide, reduce stigma and discrimination related to mental illness, and to promote the mental health and wellness of students. These initiatives are funded by counties through the Mental Health Services Act (Prop 63) and administered by the California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA), an organization of county governments working to improve mental health outcomes for individuals, families and communities.
Suicide Prevention Awareness Your Social Marketer, Inc.