Thirty minutes into the family mental health drama No Letting Go 14-year old Tim (Noah Silverman) tosses aside his homework and shouts at his mother, “You don’t get it. I don’t need to go to school anymore.” He has been in therapy since he was ten and seems to have paralyzing anxiety that prevents him from adjusting to school and enjoying formerly fun activities with his friends. His mother Catherine (Cheryl Allison) is very much aware of her middle son’s mental health struggles. She has been dealing with the consequences, often without support or encouragement, for the last four years: former friends offer unasked-for advice and criticize her parenting behind her back; condescending school officials minimize the problem while failing to offer an appropriate learning environment; and husband Henry (Richard Burgi) has a limited understanding of their son’s troubles and Catherine’s efforts to deal with them. At this point in the story Catherine may seem to be the only one who is fully aware of the problem in her family. But Tim is right. Catherine doesn’t get it. Tim’s problems and their effect on the family are going to get much worse before real understanding takes hold and healing begins.
No Letting Go draws on the personal experience of writer and producer Randi Silverman, whose own middle son lives with bipolar disorder (played in the movie by his younger brother Noah). At a recent screening I attended with my wife in Darien, CT, Ms. Silverman stated that she made the movie to inspire community dialogue about childhood mental illness and its impact on families. As the parent of a child with problems similar to Tim’s, I felt such a strong identification with the characters of this movie that it seemed to be my own family’s life depicted on the screen.
No Letting Go is partly a story about grief: a family struck by and eventually coming to terms with the emergence of a serious, potentially-disabling illness in a child. At the point in the story when Tim is ready to give up on school, Catherine and Henry are still in the earliest stages of grief – denial and anger. They know there is a problem, a serious problem, but they have yet to grasp how serious, let alone how to come to terms with it and be effective advocates for their son.
By midpoint in the story, Tim’s problems have escalated to the point that he is not attending school and his parents can no longer manage him. They take him to an expensive specialist with a long waiting list of patients and are told “There are worse things than not going to school.” When the doctor tells them Tim has bipolar disorder the gravity of their son’s condition begins to sink in. “Timothy has an illness. Do you really understand that,” the doctor asks.
In what might be considered the negotiation stage of grief, Catherine resists the doctor’s recommendation to send him to a residential treatment center for as long as a year. The doctor tells her “it is humanly impossible for you to provide the kind of structure he needs.” Catherine and Henry fight the urge to send their son away for as long as they can, until the crisis reaches a breaking point. In a heart-rending scene they break the news to Tim and two big men show up at the house to escort him to the treatment center.
The first time I watched No Letting Go in an auditorium full of people, many with families just like mine, I could not help but think of the movie as a by-the-numbers tale of childhood mental illness and its impact on a family. The story hit all the familiar points for those of us who have struggled to raise a child with serious mental health problems: lack of understanding, disapproval, or abandonment by friends; the enormous costs of treatment and education, much of it ineffective; disavowal of responsibility by condescending school officials; unbearable scenes of emotional distress and anger, often on the verge of spilling into violence; guilt and heart-wrenching pain for the affected child and damage to family relationships as sibling tensions mount and spouses polarize.
One mother in the audience commented that it was the other people in her life who really needed to watch this movie. By that, I assumed she meant the friends, acquaintances, extended family members or anyone else who had judged or failed to understand what her child and she had been through. I had a similar reaction my first time watching No Letting Go. The movie felt like a validation, something I could hold up to others and say, watch this and you may begin to understand what we have been through. For that, I am grateful to Ms. Silverman. There may be many of us who lived the story in this movie, but she was the one – with the backing of her family and effort of the entire cast and production team – who had the persistence, skill and courage to bring it to the public spotlight.
Having first watched No Letting Go at an official function of my employer Laurel House, in partnership with the Darien Library and the Community Fund of Darien, I was caught up in the message of the movie and its potential to create greater public awareness about childhood mental illness and its impact on families. A second viewing in private allowed me to feel the story and its characters on a level that was much more personal. No Letting Go is not just an indie film with a poignant social message. It is a fully realized life of a family with ultra-believable characters and a compelling storyline. I did not realize how strong the story is until I watched it a second time and allowed myself to feel the full range of emotions that so closely resemble an experience of grief, from stubborn denial, anger and sadness, to acceptance, and ultimately healing.
Ms. Silverman is to be commended for opening up the community dialogues that accompany the public screenings of this special movie, the next to occur on November 16th at Westport Woman’s Club in Westport, CT. Those of you in Fairfield County with a personal connection to mental illness may wish to bring a family member or friend who would like to understand more about this issue. Ms. Silverman intends to bring these dialogues to other communities in the future, and we will try to keep you informed of upcoming screenings in the link below. Whether or not you attend one of the public screenings of No Letting Go, I urge you to get a copy of the DVD and share it with the people who really matter to you. It is the kind of movie that changes people’s minds and hearts on a topic much talked about in society but very rarely this well understood.
Next Film Screening of No Letting Go
Thursday, March 16 at 6:15 pm at The Ferguson library in Stamford, CT.
Writer/Producer Randi Silverman will be leading a Q&A after the film.
This event is brought to you by these community sponsors, The Child Guidance Center of Southern Connecticut, The Ferguson Library, and Laurel House.
Please visit Laurel House’s website for more information.
This film is suitable for high school aged students.
Watch the Trailer:
Your purchase of this film via streaming or download will help support rtor.org’s sponsor, Laurel House, Inc., 501 (C)(3), non-profit organization.
Want the DVD? Click on the link below:
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