Film preview, discussion to focus attention on mental illness

Contact: Jeanne Baron

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—A preview of scenes from an upcoming movie will kick off a free community event Wednesday, Oct. 10, at Western Michigan University that explores mental health's impact on families.

Deborah Staples and Chase Yi in a scene from the movie.

Deborah Staples and Chase Yi are the lead characters in "Coming up for Air."

Following the preview of "Coming up for Air," a 2019 feature film shot across Michigan and in Wisconsin, a coalition of mental health experts will lead a panel discussion focusing on the critical role played by caregivers and the ready availability of community treatment resources.

The event starts at 6:30 p.m. on campus in the Fetzer Center's Kirsch Auditorium. RSVPs are requested at Free parking will available in Lot 72F.

The panel discussion will feature leaders of agencies serving the mental health needs of Kalamazoo-area residents and conclude with a question-and-answer period. The goal of the evening is to increase awareness and dialogue about mental illness and connect those in need with appropriate resources.

Event participants and sponsors

"Coming up for Air" is billed as a family drama that takes audiences on an all-too-common journey, highlighting the importance of mental health care, sensible gun safety laws and the pressures that are put upon teenagers to succeed.

Kate Thomsen, a WMU assistant professor of theatre and an actress from Kalamazoo featured in the film, will be talking about the movie along with its producer, Roger Rapoport.

Participating in the panel discussion will be Jeff Patton, CEO of Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services; Tina Robbins, executive director of ASK Family Services; Julie Helmer and Teresa Lewis, Mental Health First Aid trainers; and representatives of WMU's student chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Thomsen is featured in the film along with costar Chase Yi, a Portage native. Well known for her many local appearances at Farmers Alley, Thomsen is currently on stage at Chelsea's Purple Rose Theater in the new Jeff Daniels play "Diva Royale." Two of her students at WMU, Evan Lugo of Sterling Heights and Sebastiana Gullo of Bloomfield Hills also are in the film.

Rapoport, who is based in Muskegon, co-wrote the script for "Coming up for air" with the film's female lead, Deborah Staples.

Sponsoring the Oct. 10 event are ASK Family Services and Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, which in September received a $4 million federal grant to improve treatment for mental illness crises and substance abuse disorders. Additional support comes from the Tyler-Little Family Foundation. Other co-sponsors include #LookBeyond: #BeStigmaFree, the National Alliance on Mental Illness of WMU, and the Recovery Institute of Southwest Michigan.

Mental health messages

The mission of both the upcoming event and the film is to inspire empathy for individuals with mental illness and their families, explore the complexities of personal responsibility, demonstrate how crisis intervention can prevent tragedy, and foster community discussions of mental illness and its stigmas.

Kate Thomsen in a scene from the movie.

WMU's Kate Thomsen plays the role of  Anna Russell in the movie.

"Ironically, at a time when community mental health services are better and better, the need for those services has never been higher," says Rapoport. "A key discussion point at this event is how do you, as a parent or other caring individual, know when and how to act?"

In the movie, Thomsen plays the sister of Anna Russell (Staples), who is worried by the behavior of her son Stan (Yi), a nationally ranked 10-meter diver and Italian scholar. Because he's of adult age, Anna has no access to information about him. She must try to decipher if he's having a rough time learning life lessons or if he's in real trouble.

Anna anguishes as Stan throws a diving meet, quits school, becomes homeless and takes refuge in his blog postings. Like many parents, she struggles with wondering how worried she should be.

Additional information

"Coming up for air" is directed by Robert Cicchini and a project of the Heartland Independent Film Forum. More information is available on the film's website or by calling Rapoport at (231) 720-0930. Information about the Oct. 10 event is available by contacting Jill Angell, director of operations for ASK Family Services, at or (269) 350-2750.

Learn about WMU's Suicide Prevention Program services and resources. For area mental health services and resources, visit the Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services website or call the agency at (269) 373-6000.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.