Filmmaker tackles her mother’s bipolar disorder

LAKE PLACID – It’s a story Kathy Leichter needed to tell.

In 1974, the filmmaker’s mother, Nina Leichter, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She was prescribed lithium, but its effectiveness waned as the years passed.

Troubled and depressed, the 63-year-old Nina committed suicide in 1995 by jumping out of a window in her Manhattan apartment building. “Here One Day” is her story.

The film is an inherently sad tale, and as such it contains elements of pain and loss, but it also contains a complex message of love and understanding. Kathy explained that sometimes the things you love about a person are also the things that make them easy to be with, but that works both ways.

“My mom was an incredible, charismatic person,” Kathy said. “I describe her as like the sun. When she shined on you it felt so good. But she was also an emotionally volatile person to live with. She needed a lot of support, and as a daughter that could be difficult, as a husband that could be difficult, and as a son that could be difficult.”

Kathy said her mother was aware of her disorder and the effect it had on others. Through a series of audiotapes and videotapes Nina made, Kathy has pieced together a narrative that shows the person behind the disease. It is through those media that she is able to speak for herself.

In one of the films, Nina even admits that being bipolar is enjoyable when it isn’t severe because the disorder sometimes made her extremely productive and creative.

“It was very important for me in the film that she didn’t get labeled as just someone who’s mentally ill, who’s just a person with bipolar disorder,” Kathy said. “I want people to see her as a whole person. In the film I say she was a funky mother, and I love that about her. She was fun and playful and creative and brilliant. She was bold and would say unconventional things. She was dancing to her own drummer, in many ways.”

Nina was a teacher, a poet, a wife and a mother. Kathy said above anything she was wildly creative and had a knack for connecting with others.

“When someone has diabetes or cancer, you don’t just see that person as a cancer patient,” Kathy said. “You see them as a person who is struggling with something. Getting that across was very important to me.”

Tonight’s 7 p.m. screening of “Here One Day” at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts will also be about education. Representatives of the American Foundation for Suicide and the Franklin and Essex County coalitions for suicide prevention will educate attendees on depression-related disorders and suicide prevention, including warning signs and where to go for help.

Kathy said the goal is to dispel stigmas surrounding bipolar disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health website, doctors have yet to determine what causes the disorder, but some think there could be several causes.

According to the website, doctors do know the disorder causes “severe and unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. They are different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through from time to time.”