Arts & CultureFilm & TV

‘American Bipolar’: UO alum’s documentary about treatment of mental illness

Ever since he was a child, Tony Kern, a young blues musician from Camas, Washington treated his bipolar disorder by relying almost entirely on traditional prescription medications. After consistent periods of manic depressive episodes, Kern started losing faith in his medication’s ability to regulate the disorder. “American Bipolar,” a documentary film by University of Oregon alum, Allan Luebke, highlights Kern and his struggle to find effective treatment for bipolar disorder.

Kern is one of an alarming number of Americans who face similar struggles with treating a mental disorder. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one-in-five adults in the U.S. suffers from mental health conditions. But only 41 percent of those individuals received mental health treatment in the past year.

And even those who do receive traditional medical treatment often see little meaningful improvements to their mental state.

“When we first shot the trailer and I met Tony, he did not look like he was in good shape,” Luebke said. “The people around him were getting really worried he might try to take his own life. After that, his mom’s best friend did some research and suggested that Tony get in touch with a naturopath.”

About six months later, when Luebke returned to start filming for the documentary, Kern had started holistically treating his illness. Luebke said he looked and sounded extraordinarily better.

According to Luebke, Kern’s treatment still involved medication, but it arranged every other aspect of his life as part of the treatment too. Kern concentrated on his diet, exercise, personal relationships and hobbies — in his case singing and playing guitar. His focus on leading a balanced life, with medication as just one part of his treatment, made all the difference.

“Our society demands quick fixes,” Luebke said. “We assume all health problems have an equivocal pharmaceutical solution when that’s almost never the case. For a lot of people like Tony, the heavy emphasis on traditional medications just doesn’t work.”

Luebke wants to raise awareness about mental health and destigmatize the loaded term “holistic medicine.” “People think it’s about magic crystals when it really just acknowledges that every aspect of our lives impacts our mental health,” Luebke said.

Luebke said his primary duty as a filmmaker is to help people tell stories that could help others.

At this point, production of the film has stalled. Luebke and his colleagues are independently producing the film, making it hard to secure enough funding to continue filming and editing the documentary. Luebke initially went to mental health organizations in search of support, but their nonprofit status prevented them from donating.

“Now we’re trying to raise money with the grassroots method and it’s been tough,” Luebke said. “We really just need people to share content about the film with their friends and family and on social media so that it gains enough traction for us to finish and put it out there. It will help people learn about an issue all communities need to address”

Luebke is hoping to have the documentary out by this summer. People can donate to the film’s production at

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Max Egener

Max Egener

Max Egener is an Arts & Culture writer for the Daily Emerald. He covers documentaries, food and science and is currently pursuing a master's degree in journalism.