‘Redefining’ mental health

A documentary portrays Temple University Collaborative on Community Inclusion’s work with helping mental health patients.

Dr. Gretchen Snethen feels society’s perception of a mental illness diagnosis can define a person, but to those who live with mental illnesses, their diagnosis isn’t “their only narrative.”

“In the eyes of much of society, individuality is lost to symptoms and preconceived ideas about those with a mental illness,” said Snethen, Temple’s professor, in her opening remarks to more than 30 attendees at PhilaMOCA on May 25.

This idea served as inspiration in naming “Redefined: Owning Recreation,” a documentary short about the relationship between mental health and leisure presented by the Temple University Disability Collaborative.

The Collaborative on Community Inclusion of Individuals with Psychiatric Disabilities expands opportunities for people who have psychiatric disabilities to participate in their communities as active and equal members. This work is done by targeting obstacles and developing resources needed for community integration, said its mission statement.

“Redefined: Owning Recreation” is a visual depiction of independence through community access and navigation according to the event brochure. It is a project Snethen, assistant director of the Collaborative and her colleagues initiated.

Snethen and her team utilized Independence through Community Access and Navigation intervention, which is a tool to help individuals with mental illness get involved through personally meaningful activities and retain their independent participation after the program.

“We thought it would be really good to do a video where we actually talked about how recreation is [benefitting] our patients,” said Peter Zook, who earned a Master of Social Work from Temple in 2015 and is the creator and director of the film.

“Individuals who experience mental illness have the right to experience leisure, but too often do not,” Snethen said.

Effectively, active leisure can benefit mental health patients by fostering community engagement and increasing their mobility.

The staff at the Collaborative spent six months documenting the journey of six participants, from their first introduction to when they fully integrated leisure into their daily routine.

The four women and two men featured in the documentary come from different backgrounds; some work full-time and some achieved academic success, while others embraced independent living from their families.

Latosha Gibson, a subject in the documentary, sits on a panel following the screening of the film. | JON PLESTER TTN

Latosha Gibson, a subject in the documentary, sits on a panel following the screening of the film. | JON PLESTER TTN

The screening attracted health experts, mental health patients and professionals in the field. Yasmin Farrell is a recovery coach and community integration specialist at Elwyn, a human services organization which assists and supports disabled and disadvantaged individuals. She praised the ICAN project for being the first of its kind to open doors for long-term recovery.

Latosha Gibson, an ICAN participant, will be a Ph.D candidate in the fall, while running her own organization to help children with trauma.

“Mental illness doesn’t discriminate, but it causes people’s discrimination toward mental illness,” Gibson said in the panel discussion.

Linda Williams, another participant who overcame her fear of water after her participation in ICAN, advised attendees to start small and always tell yourself ‘you can do it.’

After six months in the program, Williams now runs miles on the treadmill every day and exercises in the pool for at least two hours.

“The patient’s’ participation in community activities is going to distract them from their symptoms and it helps to maintain their stability by engaging themselves,” Farrell said.

Anh Nguyen can be reached at

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    One comment on “‘Redefining’ mental health

    1. Harold A. Maio on said:

      —-Dr. Gretchen Snethen feels the stigma surrounding a mental illness diagnosis can define a person.

      Then avoid her until she has overcome her prejudice. As expressed it is as onerous as racism and sexism.

      I am amazed at the number of colleges and universities teaching this “stigma”, and offering students no protection from it or people uttering it.

      —-“In the eyes of much of society, individuality is lost to symptoms and preconceived ideas about those with a mental illness,” said Snethen,

      We are, in contrast to the above, a broad and diverse demographic, earning to the millions, holding every university degree, and every professional, white, and blue collar job.


      Harold A. Maio, retired mental health editor

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