Madison psychiatrist hopes to expand mental health treatment options with new documentary

'The Madness & The Mandolin' released on Amazon
Madison psychiatrist hopes to expand mental health treatment options with new documentary

A Madison child psychiatrist hopes to bring changes to mental health treatment by picking up a camera.

A new documentary by Dr. Sean Ackerman, of SSM Health, follows the life of Kelley Gibson, who has autism, seizures and manic episodes.

“Kelley Gibson is a wonderful young man from upstate New York,” said Ackerman, who originally went to school for filmmaking. “I’ve always wondered if there was a way I could combine my interests and this story came along and looked like a perfect fit for doing it.”

Ackerman met Gibson through a mentor of his, Dr. Jim Hudziak, who treats the young man.

Gibson has been hospitlized several times for his manic episodes and seizures.

“The story is a little bit about how Kelley has grown up, not just struggling, but becoming a great musician, as well,” Ackerman said. “His dad happens to be one of the most famous bluegrass musicians in the world.”

Gibson picked up that love of bluegrass music, and now it’s part of his mental health prescription.

“Kelley’s wellness regimen is really pretty intense,” Ackerman said.

From daily exercise to meditation to doing what Gibson loves most, the documentary “The Madness and the Mandolin” puts alternatives to traditional medicine for mental illness center stage.

“I can, right now, if somebody came in with depression, I could prescribe medication that costs hundreds of dollars a month and nobody bats an eye,” Ackerman said. “I can’t give them a membership to a gym or a fitness coach that works just as well. Those are some of the bigger system changes I’d like to see some day.”

But Ackerman said medication plays a role, too.

“None of this is to say that medications aren’t important for so many people. They help so many people, but it’s sort of to say, it’s not the only answer,” he said. “There are other things that are just as evidence-based, and we should be spending more time supporting those things.”

Ackerman hopes his movie will strike a chord with viewers and health care providers, just like the Gibson family has with him.

“When I watch the movie, I am really just super grateful to have worked with the Gibson family and worked with Kelley, because I learned so much from the process,” he said. “They’re really an amazing family, and I practice medicine differently because of the time I spent with him.”

Making the movie was a three-year process for Ackerman. To see Gibson’s story, Amazon has the movie available here.

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