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Film helps viewers experience what it is like to live with schizophrenia

Movie poster

Movie poster

The film “Words on a Bathroom Walls” tells the story of Adam (Charlie Plummer),  a teenager in a single-parent home who is a whiz in the kitchen and aspires to become a chef.

Then he begins to hallucinate — seeing people who are not there who intrude on his every waking moment — and has outbursts that lead him to be expelled from high school.

After being diagnosed with schizophrenia, Adam’s mother (Molly Parker) and her new husband (Walton Goggins) are able to enroll Adam in a Catholic School where he meets and falls in love with brilliant student Maya (Taylor Russell). But then Adam decides to go off his medication and his mental health worsens, threatening his future plans and his relationship with his family and Maya.

Will he recover or sink deeper into an abyss?

Social Work Speaks talks to with the film’s screenwriter Nick Naveda about why he decided to tackle such a tough and misunderstood issue such as schizophrenia and why social workers should watch the film.

Nick Naveda

Nick Naveda

Q: Mr. Naveda your past film writing has dealt with grief (Judi, 2016), the aftermath of a suicide (Say You Will, 2017) and an abusive father (When We Were Young, 2014). What makes you want to write about issues that many people find uncomfortable to confront or talk about?

A: First of all, thank you for checking out my past work. That’s very nice. To answer your question: I’m interested in writing about these tougher subjects because these are the issues that touch all of our lives in some way or another.

Q: Words on Bathroom Walls is interesting in that it lets the viewer experience schizophrenia from the viewpoint of someone living with this mental illness. What made you decide to tackle this issue in a screenplay?

A: It all started with Julia Walton’s book, which I found to be so honest, hilarious and heartbreaking all at once. As someone who struggles with mental illness myself, Adam’s journey with medications, trying to hide himself, and being fearful of not achieving his potential because of his illness — all of this really hit home for me. So, there was the personal connection I had with the material. But I was also very interested in bringing awareness to and creating empathy around one of the most misunderstood mental illnesses out there.

Q: A large number of social workers work with people living with a mental illness, including people who are schizophrenic. What do you hope they will take away from this film and why is it important social workers see it?

A: Well, the truth is nobody experiences schizophrenia the same way so it’s difficult for any film to convey a universal experience. However, my hope is that anyone who watches the film walks away with a better understanding of the inner emotional life of those living with the illness.

 Q: Many social workers lament that they do not see good portrayals of the profession in film. What is your advice to them to get more social workers on TV shows and in movies?

A: I can’t think of any outside of a film I really love called SHORT TERM 12. It seems we are long overdue for a deep dive series that is dedicated to the invaluable work social workers do for our society. That said, our film had a few sensitivity readers from within the mental health community and they were extremely helpful throughout the entire process. I believe this consulting approach could help improve the portrayal of social workers on film and TV.

However, if you are a social worker with an interest in storytelling, you can always write your own script! A social worker turned screenwriter telling their story from first-hand experience? I’d watch that.

Q: Tell us more about yourself? Where did you grow up, when did you decide to get into the film industry and what future projects can we look out for?

A: I’m from Southern California and I’ve been writing screenplays since I was a kid. I’m not sure where the obsession came from, but I loved movies and I’d transcribe my favorites into screenplay format. That led to eventually writing my own. I made a series of short films after high school that led to my feature debut, “Say You Will.”That film went on to play festivals all around the country before getting a video-on-demand release by Gravitas Ventures. I’m currently in development on my second feature as a director, which is an adaptation of my short film “Judi.”

“Words on Bathroom Walls” will be released in theaters on August 21 (See trailer). Check local theaters for availability and follow the film on its Facebook page. Social workers also work with people living with schizophrenia, helping them live more fulfilling lives. To learn more visit the National Association of Social Workers’ Help Start Here Mind and Spirit webpages.

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