Nebraska documentary sheds personal light on mental illness

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September 13th, 2011

Lincoln, NE – Megan Plouzek describes her father’s mental illness as a roller coaster. Her family is never sure if Jim is feeling well enough to go to work or whether he is entering a downward spiral that may result in hospitalization. In her film, My Dad’s Illness, Plouzek shares candid discussions with family members about the difficult the ups and downs of dealing with depression. Grant Gerlock of NET News talks with Megan and her mother, Nan, about her dad’s illness.

For the full interview, visit NET News.

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In an old family photo, Megan Plouzek sits next to her mother, Nan. (Photo provided to NET News)

MEGAN PLOUZEK: Since I was little my Dad has struggled with a mental illness. And when we were younger I understood that illness to be Seasonal Affective Disorder. So in the wintertime he would be a little blue and had a hard time getting motivated and would lay on the couch a little bit more. And in the summertime he was doing better and active. And then as time went on he got a little more depressed and it wasn’t just in wintertime. It was kind of throughout the year. So then they thought maybe it’s just depression. Then he started having episodes of psychosis. So he’d be a little more manic at times and it seemed like bipolar and they thought maybe he was bipolar at one time. So it’s just kind of been interesting following this and the doctors diagnosing his illness as several different things. And I think recently he’s (been diagnosed) with …

NAN PLOUZEK: Psychotic depression.

MEGAN: Psychotic depression. Which is sad, being a family member and not knowing exactly, pinpointing what it is. And it changes often.

GRANT GERLOCK, NET News: It hasn’t even been the same diagnosis over time.

MEGAN AND NAN: No.

GERLOCK: It’s changed as he’s had different doctors?

NAN: That’s the whole bugaboo, I guess. Often times when he’s treating outside the hospital, he has a physician, a psychiatrist and a psychotherapist. But once he is to the point where he needs hospitalization, often times those doctors do not go into the hospital. So then you have the doctor that’s on staff. You really start all over again.

GERLOCK: Nan, how long have you and Jim been married?

NAN: We just celebrated our 33rd year of marriage.

GERLOCK: And how long had you been married when you kind of knew that he was struggling and needed some help?

NAN: About 28 years ago.

GERLOCK: Megan, when did you realize that your Dad had an illness and that sort of explained what you had been experiencing?

MEGAN: Elementary school. I remember my Dad would be hospitalized, and at the time I didn’t completely understand what was going on. But I knew my Dad was sick and I didn’t know quite for sure why or what was going on. I guess being at that age, I didn’t quite understand why my Dad couldn’t get motivated, you know? Why he would lay on the couch. Why he was sad.

A more recent photo of Jim, Jason, Brad, Megan, Marcus, and Nan Plouzek. (Photo provided to NET News)

GERLOCK: There have been a few scary times that we learn about in the film where he’s had a psychotic episode or has been suicidal. You talk to your brothers about a time when your Dad was trying to be hit by a car. There were situations like this. What was it like hearing those stories? Were those stories you had known about or were you hearing them for the first time?

MEGAN: Some of them I had heard for the first time. My grandpa talked about how my dad went out in the garage and turned on the car and tried to commit suicide that way. I also didn’t know that my dad had tried to get hit by a train at one time. My mom talks a little bit about that. I did hear the story once before about my dad going down to the highway and trying to get hit by a car. I knew he was sick at the time, but I wasn’t home. I think I was in Omaha, and my family called me and explained what happened and that they were going to take him to the hospital. So I think everyone kind of has a story. I learned through making this film some of those stories and how it affected them. We don’t always openly talk about that stuff, so I guess that was some of the things I learned through doing it.

GERLOCK: Megan, I can imagine that some of these conversations are hard enough to have just privately within your own family. Why did you want to put them in a film and really make them public?

MEGAN: I just think I wanted to help people understand mental illness, because I grew up with a mentally ill father and didn’t really hear much about it. And so I just felt like, you know, if I can maybe get the word out about how hard it is, and the struggles a family goes through, that maybe it will start a conversation and maybe it will get people to start talking about it. To my surprise, actually, I think about 90 percent of the people I’ve shown this to have responded to it by saying, ‘I have someone in my own family that has a mental illness.’ And it’s been shocking, because I grew up not really knowing anyone else that dealt with it. So I think it’s already done a lot for me, just in seeing that other people are out there, and it is starting a conversation and so hopefully it will continue to do so.

GERLOCK: Megan and Nan Plouzek, thanks for sharing your story.

MEGAN and NAN: Thank you.

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