On The Tube
No Ordinary Illness
Kimberly Lifton and Susan Knoppow pen script for
Detroit Public Television documentary focusing on teen depression.
egression is treatable, and
Detroit psychiatrist Dr.
David Rosenberg wants
to get that message out to
the public so he can help save lives.
"There have been such exciting
developments with medicine and
therapy," says Dr. Rosenberg, the
Miriam L. Hamburger Endowed
Chair of Child Psychiatry and
Psychology at Children's Hospital of
Michigan and Wayne State
University, both in Detroit.
"Childhood depression is one of
the most treatable illnesses in all of
medicine if we catch it early. The
problem is that so often signs and
symptoms are missed."
Rosenberg, who has devoted his
career to researching and treating
mental illnesses in children and ado-
lescents, will talk about the state of
teenage depression and other mental
illnesses Wednesday, Jan. 14, at 8
p.m. during an hour-long documen-
tary that will air on Detroit Public
Television's WTVS-Channel 56.
Following the documentary, No
Ordinary Joe: Erasing the Stigma of
Mental Illness, Rosenberg also will be
part of a 30-minute town hall meet-
ing at the WTVS studio in Detroit.
There, local teens will discuss
depression and other issues with
mental health professionals.
The moving story, which includes
interviews that were filmed in
Detroit, Boston and Baltimore, as
well as North Carolina, aims to
diminish the stigma attached to
mental illnesses in the United States.
It features the tragic story of Joseph
J. Laurencelle, who was diagnosed at
age 22 with bipolar disorder, or
manic-depressive disorder, one of the
most serious forms of depression. Joe
Laurencelle took his own life when
he was 26.
After Joe's death, his family took
action, establishing the Joseph J.
Laurencelle Memorial Foundation.
While bringing the foundation's
efforts into the spotlight, the docu-
mentary also examines national
efforts to combat the stigma. The
foundation provides free interactive
educational programs on mental ill-
ness to high-school students, parents
and school personnel, as well as to
other community organizations. It is
funded through private donations
and through an annual golf tourna-
"We hope to heighten awareness of
mental illness and to advocate for
Mike Laurencelle, a retired real
estate developer from Bingham
Farms who runs the foundation.
"We wanted to do something that
would prevent other families from
suffering our same fate."
Six years ago, Mary Louise
Laurencelle died following a brave
Susan Knoppow, Michael Laurencelle and Kim Lifton at the Communicore Studios
in Birmingham, where work on the television documentary was completed.
compassionate acceptance for those
who suffer from these life-threaten-
ing illnesses," says Joe's father, Mike
Laurencelle, who founded the organ-
ization in his son's name in 1996
with his wife, Mary Louise
"Knowledge heals," Dr. Rosenberg
says. "It defeats ignorance and the
stigma attached to mental illness."
In creating the foundation, the
Laurencelle family focused on the
teen population because Joe showed
signs of depression during high
school but wasn't diagnosed with
bipolar disorder until he was in col-
"We didn't see the signs at the
time, but they were there," says
battle with breast cancer. After her
death, Mike decided to put all of his
energy into the foundation. He
wanted to move it beyond its small
mom-and-pop setup. He had nation-
al aspirations for the foundation.
He turned to his family friend and
foundation board member Gary
May, a local Emmy Award-winning
producer. May, of Royal Oak, creat-
ed and produces the Henry Ford
Hospital medical series, The Minds
With May's input, Mike
Laurencelle opted to produce a doc-
"We're out to change a lot of
minds," Mike Laurencelle says.
May offered to direct the film, free
of charge, in memory of Joe, the boy
he once coached as a junior high-
school football player. Next, May
contacted Detroit Public Television
officials, who provided an airdate
and suggested doing a town hall
meeting with experts and teens fol-
lowing the show.
"The momentum just kept build-
ing," says May, who hopes to air the
documentary nationally. "We were
in the right place at the right time.
There was a need for this piece and
an excitement I haven't seen in a
May hired writers Kimberly Lifton
and Susan Knoppow, each of whom
brought her own story to the table
about a friend or family member
who suffered from a mental illness.
"The more I talked about our
project, the more stories I heard
about others," Lifton says. "After an
interview in Boston with a Harvard
psychiatrist, one of the crew mem-
bers told me that his mother com-
mitted suicide. Another woman told
me she was bipolar, and that she was
relieved she could tell someone who
Lifton and Knoppow — both
Huntington Woods residents — say
the project was one of their most
rewarding ones to date. Though nei-
ther had ever written anything of
this magnitude for the television
medium, they relished the challenge.
"I feel like I've worked my entire
career for this project," Knoppow
says. "This show is incredibly impor-
tant because it will get people talk-
ing about a subject that has been
taboo for too long."
Lifton and Knoppow found the
post-production process fascinating
and spent many hours assisting May
in the edit suite. There, they
watched Editor Terry Brennan of
Communications in Birmingham
create a full-length visual documen-
tary from their rough footage and a
"It was amazing just to watch
more than 20 hours of film, five ver-
sions of scripts and some ideas get
transformed into this end product,"
says Knoppow, an executive speech-
Interviewing family members was
challenging for both writers. But for
Lifton, a freelance reporter who lost
her twin sister, Hope, two years ago,
it was exceptionally emotional.
"They would talk about how they
remember Joe, and I would start
thinking about how much I miss