Al Bernstein IAN BROWN PHOTOGRAPHY
Short film explores mental health issues and violenceNovember 8, 2017By Susan Minuk
Al Bernstein is a first-time filmmaker who debuted his short film, WalledIn, at the Toronto Independent Film Festival last September.
As lead actor, writer and executive producer, Bernstein dived into the arena of mental illness. With a running time of 8 1/2 minutes, WalledIn is a project that took Bernstein four years to complete. The film depicts a powerful performance by Bernstein, playing a high school principal who meets with a troubled and potentially homicidal teen who he fears may go on a shooting spree, in his office one morning. An unsettling dialogue ensues.
The film also premiered in Louisville, England, and will be screened in Ottawa, New York, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Bulgaria by the end of the year.
“I am very proud and so excited of where WalledIn has gone so far. There is a growing awareness surrounding mental health and a greater openness among people for discussion, allowing for more stories to emerge,” said Bernstein.
What would you do if you found yourself in a moment where you possibly have a chance to save the lives of dozens of children? “This is the question that my character is facing. I have created a very specific backstory with multiple layers,” he said.
Bernstein’s character is loosely based on himself and his own mental health issues.
“The principal has depression and anxiety, but he’s learning about it for the first time, while the student has been living with it most of her life, having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The student teaches the principal lesson after lesson, telling him she doesn’t need to be fixed, to accept her for who she is, to stop judging her. She also tells him, ‘Just because you found a gun (in my locker), doesn’t mean I’m going to kill anyone,’ ” said Bernstein’.
“there is growing awareness surrounding mental health”
In the principal’s office, the student has a flashback to a presentation she delivered to her classmates.
“The mysterious priestess is a character created by the student while in her mania, a place where she feels empowered. She delivers messages to the students about discrimination versus stigma and tolerance. It took me a long time to write that presentation in a way that I think turned out really beautiful,” he said.
Bernstein ends the film with a cliffhanger: “I purposely left no definitive ending to the film, because I knew the audience would be intrigued, and possibly even frustrated. I want people to think and talk about it.”
Bernstein’s goal is to spark a dialogue within the mental health community.
“I want it to be a part of the conversation about mental health in our youth and the role of the educator. I want the film to be shown at schools, youth outreach programs, community centres and in therapists’ offices, as a doorway to a bigger conversation,” said Bernstein.
Bernstein, 49, grew up in Toronto. He attended York University, studying English literature by day, while pursuing acting classes in the evening at Ryerson University.
READ: COURT GRANTS INJUNCTION TO KEEP BRAIN DEAD ORTHODOX MAN ON LIFE SUPPORT
When he started out, Bernstein set his sights on working as an actor in New York City. He performed on the New York stage for several years, until he was accepted into his dream program at the Actors Studio Drama School at the New School University, where he earned his master’s degree. He studied with theatre’s top coaches, including Elizabeth Kemp, David Gideon, Arthur Penn, Ellen Burstyn, Susan Batson and many more. By 2008, Bernstein had moved to Los Angeles, where he lived for nine years, but he recently moved back to Toronto.
Some of Bernstein’s film, television, and theatre roles include: Blackberry, The Umbrella Academy, Godsend with Robert DeNiro, How to lose a Guy in 10 Days with Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey, Nip/Tuck and Nikita. His off-Broadway roles include The Interrogation, The Dance of Chance and Have you Heard Uncle Dan Sing?
Director Elia Kazan, whose films dealt with personal and social issues, is Bernstein’s inspiration. Kazan memorably wrote, “I don’t move unless I have some empathy with the basic theme.
“Elia Kazan did everything from producing and writing to acting. He eventually found his niche as a director. He was very talented and so much of an influence on me. I always felt that it would be lovely to have a life like that,” said Bernstein.
“I’m working on the treatment of a feature film version of WalledIN,” he said. “I am going to tell the story of how the principal and the student arrived that day in the principal’s office by going back to the past – about six months.”
Pandemic saw huge rise in younger adolescents, particularly girls, visiting hospital for mental health crises
The pair of new studies published Monday in the CMAJ found higher-than-expected ER visits, hospitalizations for these crises in children 10-18 compared to years leading up to pandemic.
By Kenyon Wallace Investigative Reporter, Megan Ogilvie Health Reporter
Monday, September 18, 2023
5 min to read
The number of Canadian adolescents who visited emergency departments or required hospital treatment for self-harm or suicidal thoughts rose significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the greatest increase among preteen and younger teen girls, two new studies show.
The pair of studies, published Monday in the CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal), found higher-than-expected emergency department visits and hospitalizations for these mental health crises in children ages 10 to 18 compared to the years leading up to the pandemic.
Researchers say the studies provide further evidence of the pandemic’s impact on the mental health of young people. The findings, they say, echo other Canadian and international research that shows similar increases in self-harm among adolescent girls, signalling this group may have been disproportionally affected.
The new research, the authors say, highlights the need for better access and more funding to bolster the already stretched pediatric mental health system, and points to the demand for additional supports for children and youth, including help in identifying early warning signs in preteens and younger teenagers.
“What we didn’t expect to find was that these mental health crises would be so exacerbated in females and in younger adolescents — girls between 10 and 14 years old — during the pandemic in terms of hospital admissions,” said Dr. Naveen Poonai, an associate professor at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and lead author of the Canada-wide study.
“This demographic needs to be on our radar and serious consideration for investment needs to be made.”
Dr. Natasha Saunders, a pediatrician at the Hospital for Sick Children and senior author of the second study published in the CMAJ, said Ontario data showing elevated rates of self-harm among preteen and young teenage girls emphasizes the need to ensure kids have multiple ways to easily and equitably access mental health care to help prevent them from requiring hospital care.
“We have to, as a system, meet kids where they’re at and where they’re ready to seek care. We need care to be continuous and co-ordinated and not hard to navigate,” she said, adding that timely access is equally important.
“If a kid seeks help, we can’t wait 10 months to get that kid care.”
The first study, conducted by members of the Pediatric Emergency Research Canada Network, a group of health-care researchers working to improve care in pediatric emergency medicine, analyzed anonymized data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). They found that while Canada-wide emergency department visits for all causes in children age 10 to 18 fell considerably during the pandemic compared to the five years pre-COVID, ER visits and hospital admissions for suicidal ideation, self-harm and self-poisoning increased for this group.
Emergency room visits for these crises increased to 6,060 per quarter during the pandemic period (April 1, 2020 - March 31, 2022), up from 5,293 per quarter in the pre-pandemic period (April 1, 2015, to March 31, 2020) — an increase of 14.5 per cent. Hospitalizations for these conditions in the same age group increased to 1,770 per quarter of the pandemic from 1,590 admissions per quarter pre-pandemic, an increase of 11 per cent.
Previous data from CIHI showed mental illness, including anxiety and mood disorders, was among the top reasons kids and teenagers required hospital care during COVID’s second year.
The second paper published Monday in the CMAJ — a population-based study that analyzed Ontario data from CIHI and the independent research group ICES — found ER visits for self-harm in children age 10 -17 increased by 29 per cent above expected levels, while hospitalizations increased by 72 per cent.
As in the Canada-wide study, the increases were greatest among girls, particularly those 10 - 13. There was a 62 per cent increase in ER visits among this cohort compared to expected levels modelled from data collected in the three years leading up to the pandemic. As well, hospitalizations among girls 10 - 13 were three-and-a-half times greater than expected levels.
The study also found an increase in adolescents seeking hospital care for self-harm among those who had already entered the mental health system and among those for whom the visit was their first for mental health concerns, Saunders said. This suggests this issue is not solely due to difficulties accessing care in the community, she said, but may also signal more widespread distress amongst this age group.
While the pair of studies didn’t examine the reasons for the increases in ER visits and hospitalizations, Saunders said they are likely due to “the chronic, cumulative effects of the pandemic” during a vulnerable time in a child or teen’s development.
“When you have these incredibly stressful periods, at a time when a child’s brain is developing, when they’re developing their sense of identity, they’re developing their independence, and many of the things that usually support normal healthy development have been taken away or curtailed, that can leave a lasting impact on a young teen,” said Saunders.
She said a limitation of the Ontario study is that it only accounts for kids who go to the hospital, meaning it is “likely an underestimate of the true magnitude of effect because many kids may have self-harming behaviours at home who don’t present to acute care.”
Poonai noted that before the pandemic and depending on the school board, many young people had access to school-based counsellors, social workers and even some mental health nurses. During the pandemic, much of that access ceased.
“Children relied on those people extensively,” he said. “They were available to kids during the day, they heard directly from teachers, they heard directly from parents and they knew the kids.”
“I’m not a public health policy expert, but what I do know is that investments in front-line support staff for kids, whether they be mental health specialists or counsellors with interests in mental health, such as social workers, needs to be made.”
Dr. Stacey Bélanger, a developmental pediatrician and hospitalist at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Sainte-Justine, a large pediatric hospital in Montreal, said the studies’ findings reflect what she and her colleagues saw during the early years of the pandemic.
“My colleagues in the emergency department couldn’t keep up with the influx of patients coming in with mental health issues,” said Bélanger who specializes in mental health and behavioural pediatrics. “I’ve been practising for almost 25 years, and it was the first time that the majority of the patients in our hospital units were adolescents and the majority of those because of a mental health crisis or treatment for eating disorders.”
In May, the Canadian Pediatric Society released a statement calling for systemic changes to meet the mental health needs of the country’s children and youth. The society noted that fewer than 20 per cent of kids with mental health concerns receive timely treatment and said a lack of access to multidisciplinary care and inadequate government funding, among other things, has “exacerbated a mental health crisis among children and youth.”
Bélanger, a member of the Society’s Mental Health Task Force, said more funding is needed to ensure universal access to community mental health services, programs and supports to help prevent kids and teens from needing hospital care.
Dr. Rachel Mitchell, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and lead author of the Ontario study, said she wants children and adolescents struggling with their mental health — and their parents and caregivers — to know “there is always hope and there is always help.”
“That’s the most important thing to remember. Even when all feels lost, in moments of crisis or despair, that feeling won’t last forever. You may not be able to change the situation, but you can get help to start changing the way you feel. We want kids to reach out for that help.”
If you are thinking of suicide or know someone who is, there is help. Resources are available online at crisisservicescanada.ca or you can connect to the national suicide prevention helpline at 1-833-456-4566, or the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868.
Kenyon Wallace is a Toronto-based investigative reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @KenyonWallace or reach him via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
California family receives $27 million settlement over death of teen assaulted by fellow studentsVanessa Arredondo
A Southern California school district agreed to pay $27 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the family of a 13-year-old boy who died after he was assaulted by two students four years ago.
The Moreno Valley Unified School District settled with the family of Diego Stolz, who was beaten to death at Landmark Middle School on Sept. 16, 2019. The settlement may be the largest in the country related to school bullying, according to law firm Taylor & Ring, which made the announcement Wednesday.
Cellphone video of the incident showed two teenagers confronting and punching Stolz, who fell and hit his head against a pillar in the schoolyard. He died several days later from a brain injury.
Bullying at schools is pervasive across the country. According to a recent report by the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, 40% of youth said they were bullied on school property in the past year, and 38% of them didn’t tell an adult.
"The school knew Diego was being targeted and did nothing to put an end to the bullying," the firm wrote in a Facebook post on Wednesday. "We hope this case is a wake-up call to all schools in the U.S. – take your anti-bullying policies seriously and when a student complains, take action."
MAKING SURE YOUR CHILD'S SCHOOL IS SAFE:These are the questions parents should ask
Attack caught on videoAccording to the suit, the family issued multiple complaints to school administrators about the repeated verbal and physical abuse Stolz experienced on and off campus. But lawyers said their concerns were not taken seriously.
Days before the teen's death, family members met with school administrators to ask for protection, according to the lawyers. Officials promised to suspend the students for three days but when Stolz arrived at school the following Monday, his bullies were still there.
Two teens confronted Soltz during lunchtime that day, according to video footage. One sucker punched him in the face. As Stolz staggered back, another boy punched him on the side of his head, causing Stolz to fall. His assailants punched him one more time before leaving.
A family in mourningA principal and two assistant principals were dismissed from Landmark Middle School following an investigation into Stolz's death. The lawsuit alleges that the school did not report previous assaults to police.
“We understand hearing news regarding Diego may be challenging to hear,” said Moreno Valley Unified School District Superintendent Martinrex Kedziora in an email to families and staff Wednesday evening. “The news of Diego’s death was not something we took lightly. The safety and well-being of our students is and will remain our top priority.”
The message described anti-bullying efforts enacted by the district — such as online forms to report bullying and visible information in the classroom like posters and business cards — since Stolz’s death in 2019.
"Diego was, by all accounts, the sweetest nicest kid you could ever meet," lawyers said on behalf of the family. "When the bullies confronted him yet again, Diego put his hands to his side because he was told to never fight at school."
Nine days after the altercation, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department announced that Stolz had been pronounced clinically dead due to his injuries. The family decided to donate his organs to "transform this tragedy into the gift of life for other children."
Two teenagers, aged 14 at the time of the attack, were arrested. They pleaded guilty in juvenile court to involuntary manslaughter and assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury. The teens, whose names were withheld because they were minors, spent 47 days in custody and were ordered to undergo anger management therapy, according to The Associated Press.
Family said Stolz was a 'typical 13-year-old boy.' He liked playing video games, soccer, and music. He was raised by his aunt and uncle after his parents died.
"The family will forever be heartbroken by the death of Diego but they hope this case brings about change in school districts across the country," said the family’s lead counsel Dave Ring in a release. "Diego’s death was preventable if this school had simply prioritized an antibullying policy."
Does Gen Z struggle more with mental health than millennials? New polling shows signs of a shift
By Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
Published 12:01 AM EDT, Thu September 14, 2023
Compared with older generations today, members of Gen Z are much more likely to report experiencing negative emotions such as stress, anxiety and loneliness, according to a new study.
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CNN — A smaller share of Gen Z is thriving compared to millennials at the same age, and members of Gen Z are far less likely to describe their mental health as “excellent,” according to a new study.
“Less than half (47%) of Gen Z Americans are thriving in their lives — among the lowest across all generations in the U.S. today and a much lower rate than millennials at the same age,” a report from Gallup and the Walton Family Foundation said.
The study, released Thursday, aims to reflect the voices of Gen Z on key issues the generation faces. Researchers surveyed more than 3,000 people aged 12-26 in April and May of this year.
“Decisions affecting public policy, learning environments and workplaces should consider the perspectives of — not about — Gen Z, the challenges they face and the solutions that best suit their unique needs,” the study said.
Debunking this myth about Baby Boomers also reveals something about Gen Z
Researchers said a scale measuring whether people are thriving, struggling or suffering is a telling metric. Respondents were asked to rate how they saw their current and future lives, and defined as thriving if they gave high ratings in both categories.
Only 41% of Gen Z members aged 18 to 26 are thriving, according to the study, while millennials at the same age were thriving at a rate of about 60%.
One thing that’s important to keep in mind: Generational research is controversial.
Some scholars argue generation labels are harmful and unscientific.
And earlier this year, the Pew Research Center pointed out that some trends that appear to be generational shifts may actually be differences based on life stage and age that can change over time.
Researchers say there’s evidence Gen Z’s mental health struggles are differentCompared with older generations today, the Gallup-WFF study said members of Gen Z are much more likely to report experiencing negative emotions such as stress, anxiety and loneliness.
Researchers also said they found “evidence that Gen Z’s self-reported mental health struggles are distinct from those of previous generations at the same age.” Asked to describe their current mental health or well-being, only 15% of members of Gen Z aged 18-26 said it was excellent.
That’s a steep drop compared to a decade ago, the study found, when 52% of millennials in that same age range said their mental health was excellent. And in 2004, 55% of people aged 18-26 (including both millennials and Gen X respondents) reported excellent mental health
Why was there such a significant decrease? Researchers noted that overall declines in mental health over the past decade may be partially responsible. According to the study, both millennials and members of Gen X “report far lower mental health ratings” today than they did a decade ago.
This isn’t the first research highlighting Gen Z’s mental health struggles.
Adolescent mental health shows signs of improvement but remains a crisis, CDC reports
Earlier this year, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said poor mental health remains a “substantial public health problem” for adolescents, especially among teen girls.
A 2018 report from the American Psychological Association found that, compared to other generations, more members of Gen Z thought their mental health was fair or poor. At the time, the association’s CEO called the shift concerning, but noted there could also be a positive sign.
“This generation may be more tuned in to recognizing issues with their mental health than older generations,” psychologist Walter Evans said.
Another characteristic of Gen Z: optimismThe picture members of Gen Z paint of their lives is far from bleak.
Zillennials: The newest micro-generation has a name
More than three quarters of members of Gen Z agree they have a great future ahead of them, according to the study.
“There is quite an enduring optimism in the face of mental health struggles for this generation,” the study says.
Despite this optimism, the study also notes that less than half of members of Gen Z feel they’re prepared for the future.
Pollsters also asked Gen Z about other topicsMental health isn’t the only issue the study explores.
Other findings include:
• About half (53%) of Gen Z students who want to pursue higher education believe they’ll be able to afford it
• 40% of Gen Z students said they worried a lot or some about gun violence at their school
• Making “enough money to live comfortably” is Gen Z’s “most frequently cited hope for the future,” with 69% of those surveyed ranking it among their top wishes
Researchers said this study is their first report on this nationally representative group, but it won’t be the last. They plan to keep surveying members of Gen Z going forward to provide more data for policymakers.
What am I trying to accomplish by making my movie, new play and possibly TV series WalledIN? A seventeen-year-old’s story about her struggles with mental health and her coping resources. You’re a male actor of a certain background and age. What do you know about this subject?
I know a fair amount: personal and professional lived experience. I am highly educated invested in the topics and I am a creator.
What I wish to offer the world through my work is a chance to participate in an important conversation after attending a screening, or production of WalledIN. I believe mental health in our youth and in general is one of the major challenges for our world in the next twenty-five years. If you don’t believe me, read the headlines in almost every major news platform as kids head back to school.
I believe some way or another we will be forced to create new resources, revamped systems, new investments, new education and breakthroughs in science and technology all to support mental health.
I believe our school systems need to change to accommodate trauma sensitive programming, further educated staff, teachers and administrators so school is more than a place for education, but a safe place for social interaction and life experience.
I believe the police in our neighborhoods need to be educated and practise a new supportive form of de-escalation as they come upon certain circumstances.
I believe the neighborhood/community like: bus drivers, merchants, post office, delivery services, restaurants and stores need to become more aware of their surroundings, who their customers are and what are their needs.
And so on and so on…
Why do I believe in all these things? Here are a few reasons: social media, cell phones and access to information and disinformation at the touch of a button, climate change, privatization of health care, the public school system, the divide between the classes, and the social movements of today.
As I walk down the street, I find myself clapping my hands, and screaming ‘heads up,’ as young people come within one step of bumping into me because their eyes are looking down at a phone. I try to step aside and make sure I don’t bump into anyone, but on a crowded street it can become an unwelcome obstacle. Go to a school campus and see who is talking and listening or who is on their phone talking at someone or not at all.
The bullying and provocations from kids on social media is out of control. Influencers are constantly marketing goods and services that most people cannot afford or don’t even need. Over all, the pressures on kids to be like someone else is unnecessarily high. I know it is a thing for a teenager to feel that kind of pressure, but it appears to be on steroids.
Notwithstanding, there are thousands of opportunities online for kids to learn, explore, expand, connect and share their talents, ideas and thoughts today more than in past generations. I also believe that the speed at which information is moving is too fast for most human minds to safely comprehend in real time, let alone fresh young minds. Look at the brilliant advancements in AI and the discussion being brought to the world’s attention right now by the WGA, SAG-AFTRA and other industries by unions taking a stand before it’s too late for people who are just trying to make a living wage.
Advancement in technology is amazing, so important and so is how it is regulated so we can advance with it.
The divide between the classes seems to be an unfortunate reality and evolution within a capitalist society. A piece of paper called ‘money,’ is agreed upon by the population as the common goal: collect as much as you can, charge as much as you can, save as much as you can, work as hard as you can and only focus on this piece of paper. Are you the best, the most famous, the most important? Will you vote for me or pressure your neighbor by making it harder for them to vote for whom they believe in so your person can win?
I can go on and on, but do you really care. I believe positive moves and healthy directions come in the form of conversations, connections and respectful communications.
It is like we are in a time where we can either make a horrible decision and the results could be disastrous for thousands and/or ourselves, or we can make difficult healthy, bold decisions and evolve with the help of technology into a better time.
Therefore, our youth deserve every positive, creative, proactive, intelligent, logical opportunity within their education systems, and community to become good people. Taking care of their mental health is one of the most important challenges of our time.
If we take care of each other by educated awareness, sensitivity and inclusive systems.: we end up taking care of everybody tomorrow.
I am grateful you took the time to read this opinion piece, and I hope it connects with you in some way, and if I’m lucky you could be interested in joining, supporting or teaming up with WalledIN, the Conversation.
Take a look at what’s happening with my project and reach out.
Al works in film/tv and the theatre in New York, Toronto, and Los Angeles some highlights include: the award-winning short film Walled IN (written & produced by Al), Workin’ Moms, The Umbrella Academy, The Novice, Nikita, How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days, Showtime’s Street Time, Off Broadway: The Interrogation, Will (written by Al), 2013 Winner! LA Drama Critics Awards for Best Production, Director, Adaptation, CYRANO (World Premiere, DeafWest/Fountain Theatre), 2011 Ovation & LA Weekly Award winning Best Musical, Best Musical Director, Best Director, HOBOKEN TO HOLLYWOOD, The Sunshine Boys (with Hal Linden and Allan Miller) plus, many more. Today, Al is a finalist at the Actors Studio and works as an actor, writer, filmmaker and acting professor in Toronto.