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  • Writer's pictureIndira Somani

Telling my Mom’s Story AND Caring for Her

Updated: Apr 23


I have been living with my mother’s mental illness for more than twenty years, when my father passed away in 2002. In my childhood, my mother was not struggling with mental health or at least it did not show. My mom and I have an intimately intertwined relationship because she could not immediately lean on the South Asian community once she was diagnosed with depression, and instead, turned to me. That’s why I have a deep understanding of seniors’ care and their mental health needs. My mother has placed her trust in me as a filmmaker to highlight her struggle in open and genuine ways. The result is a documentary, “Mom & Me” which is currently in post-production.


 

I discussed my experience with my Mom's depression, my documentary and my relationship with her on new show launched by Dawn Helmrich and Neil Parekh, “Shining Light on Shadows: A Candid Conversation About Mental Health.” You can watch the recording on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram and Neil’s website.

 

My mother is an active collaborator in this documentary, making sure we reveal the truth of her situation. I am continually showing her rough cuts of scenes and the assembly to make sure she is comfortable with her portrayal. What I have discovered is that she is insistent that awkward or uncomfortable scenes remain in the film. “That is what happened, it is fact,” is often her response. At times, we have sat together in the edit booth and logged archival footage.


This has been immensely rewarding for us both: reviewing the past together and having her tell me what was happening and when, especially during my toddler years. I’ve gained more knowledge about our family history, while also connecting to my mother as an adult in a new context. I value her input but principally, the deeper connection we have made is invaluable.


There is still a stigma around discussing mental health. I’ve found ways to tell this story of my mother’s illness with respect and dignity. I am making this film because I want people to understand that South Asian families also struggle with depression, struggle with figuring out caregiving, struggle with adult siblings trying to figure out how to manage long-term plans for their parents. I want people to understand that with proper psychiatric care and medication, people can still lead fulfilling lives.


This story speaks to the universal theme of understanding obligations for parents, dealing with loneliness and its impact on mental illness. The story also deals with adult Americans putting their lives on hold to support their parents emotionally, physically and in some cases, financially.


The creative team behind the film maintains close relationships with their own mothers and grandmothers. My Director of Photography (DP) is half Puerto-Rican and close to her mother and grandmother. She sees her mother caring for her grandmother. Additionally, bedroom scenes with my mom would not have worked with a male DP. My mother is very modest and would have felt uncomfortable with a male DP. As a Chinese American, the story producer deals with immigrant parents with mental health issues; she is working on this project to increase visibility of elderly Asian Americans who need more than just physical care as they age. As a second generation Filipino-American, the editor, whose parents are nearly the same age as my mother, feels a close connection to the story. He is close to them but there has always been a barrier to discussing psychiatry and depression with them. Stories with these themes are rare and need to be told.


I have a partnership with South Asian Mental Health Initiative & Network (SAMHIN), which connected me to the Khushalani Foundation. Both organizations are invested in helping with outreach. I welcome your support of the film.




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