Barbara Van Dahlen’s and Brendan O’Toole’s stories are featured in “Into the Light.”
Barbara Van Dahlen’s and Brendan O’Toole’s stories are featured in “Into the Light.”
“Into the Light,” a new documentary about the effort to change the culture of mental health in America and to lift the shame, stigma and silence surrounding it, will be shown in a special, free pre-screening with the filmmaker at 2 p.m. on Saturday, February 17, at the Lincoln Theater in Damariscotta. The film will be released nationwide by PBS in May.

After working on “A Matter of Duty: The Continuing War Against PTSD,” which aired on MPBN in 2013, veteran documentary filmmaker Charles Stuart, who now calls Maine his permanent home, wanted to expand on that story, which focused on Randall Liberty, then-sheriff of Kennebec County and now warden at Maine State Prison, and Liberty’s own battle with PTSD as well as his work with combat veterans in Kennebec County Jail.

Stuart sought out Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, a nationally known psychologist who started an organization in 2005 to work with veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to provide them with free access to mental health professionals to help them heal by sharing their stories — and to break down the silence and the stigma around mental suffering and PTSD.

Van Dahlen told Stuart about Brendan O’Toole, a Marine veteran who was just then running across the country with the goal of raising awareness about untreated PTSD among returning troops. But untreated mental suffering is not a crisis confined to war or veterans. As Van Dahlen started working with Stuart and O’Toole, she, too, began to confront her own long-buried story about her schizophrenic mother who had left the family and who Van Dahlen had not seen for 40 years. When Van Dahlen decides to track her mother down, she agrees to allow Stuart to document on film what turns into a two-year quest with an uncertain and dramatic outcome.

“Into the Light,” the resulting documentary, follows the paths O’Toole and Van Dahlen both take to reveal personal stories that reflect a greater truth about mental health in 21st-century America. Ultimately, this is a film about trust. O’Toole and Van Dahlen inspire others in the film to also tell their deeply personal stories. Says Stuart, “It’s a mental health film about stigma and shame that is uplifting.”

“Into the Light” will be released nationwide on PBS in May of 2018 and will also be a tool in the national Campaign to Change Direction (www.changedirection.org), which is aimed at reducing the stigma associated with diagnosable mental illness that affects more than 40 million Americans.

The filmmaker, Charles Stuart, has created films and video for Frontline, ABC, 60 Minutes, HBO, the Discovery Channel, A&E, Lifetime, MSNBC, National Geographic, and others, and is the recipient of eight national television Emmy awards. He will lead a discussion after the screeing in Damariscotta with representatives from the Maine Bureau of Veteran Services and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.