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Words That Bite


A portrait of two women struggling with mental illness
(25 minutes)

Elizabeth and Kathleen have been officially classified as having a mental illness. In this video, they focus on their strengths and resist being defined by others.

The Mental Illness Education Project is pleased to distribute this videotape co-produced by the Family Service Centre of Ottawa-Carleton and Canadian documentary filmmaker, Angèle Gagnon, who directed it.

Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Major Depression. Just words. But applied to people, they can brand with shame and build an impenetrable barrier. Too often, they are used to hurt those labeled and to rob them of their hopes and dreams.

Elizabeth Dahle worked as a psychotherapist before her illness became incapacitating. Kathleen Gorman worked as a psychiatric nurse before depression halted her career. However, they discovered that recovery from their diagnostic labels was often more difficult than recovery from the illness itself.

Stigma, they found, is the biggest impediment for people with mental illness to having a normal life.

"When others discover that we have a diagnosis, they become uncomfortable or worse - afraid. Stigma tells lies about us. It says that we are not capable, that we are fragile or weak, that we are victims. Stigma says that we have no future and no hope. Sometimes it says that we are dangerous. We made this film to expose the lie and to let others see us as we are - real people with the same needs, desires, hopes and aspirations as those without mental illness."

Words That Bite offers a glimpse behind the wall that separates many people with mental illness from society. With humor and candor, Elizabeth Dahle and Kathleen Gorman reveal the enormous toll that diagnostic labels can exact.

The film provides insights into a variety of issues: relationships, acceptance, grief and loss, health issues, medication and its side-effects, poverty, work, despair and hope. "On the street" interviews both confirm and contrast with the experiences described by Kathleen and Elizabeth. The result is a compelling and distinctive portrayal of their experiences.


"The witty and perceptive women who created and appear in this video make it impossible for the viewer to forget the full humanity of people who have been labeled 'mental patients.'"

Paula J. Caplan
Author, They Say You're Crazy

"This is the best anti-stigma video I have ever seen. It really serves the purpose of putting a human face to mental illness. It also discusses taboo subjects such as sexuality and suicide and the need to be loved, accepted and understood."

Renée Ouimet
Public Education Program Manager, Canadian Mental Health Association

VHS format only

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