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DL grads team up to bring mental illness awareness to light

A still taken from the documentary 'Call Me Mental' feature Detroit Lakes graduate Dylan Archer. The documentaries, produced by another Detroit Lakes graduate Joe Olivieri and his business partner, feature various stories of mental illness. The group came back home to Detroit Lakes in January to film the 10-minute episode. SUBMITTED PHOTO

To say that Dylan Archer has lived through tough times would be an understatement.

A year ago, he started a blog about what he was going through, originally planned to be a one-time entry.

“The initial blog entry, to be honest, was my suicide note,” he said Tuesday from a coffee shop in Minneapolis. “I went through and told my entire story. I wanted people not to have any reason not to know how I was feeling.”

Living with double depression – dysthymia and major depressive disorder – he decided not to kill himself, and now is using his story to help others struggling with mental health issues.

Last year, the Detroit Lakes native was in Zorbaz when he ran into former co-worker Joe Olivieri and they got to talking.

Olivieri, a 2006 Detroit Lakes graduate, and his business partner Dave Cowardin were looking to do a documentary on suicide awareness and prevention.

“We worked together at Pamida back in the day,” Olivieri said of knowing Archer from school days. “He was always long-haired, sun glasses on all the time, off-putting, I think he would even say. He was just very angry at that time.”

Olivieri said he was very intrigued with Archer’s overall story. Olivieri moved to Detroit Lakes in seventh grade and didn’t know a lot of the Archer family backstory until he was older.

Olivieri and Cowardin were looking at following another man’s story through mental illness, “but he just wasn’t ready,” Olivieri said. Then he ran into Archer.

Happenstance meeting

While at Zorbaz that night, Archer, a 2008 Detroit Lakes graduate, told Olivieri about his blog, which he had continued to post to, hoping to connect and help others.

“He took a look at it with Dave, and they gave me a call and asked me if I’d be the focal point of this,” Archer said.

Since then, the project has taken a much broader turn from suicide awareness to mental illness, as its title, “Call Me Mental: Telling Stories That Will Save Lives” suggests.

“We just kind of by happenstance ran into each other,” Archer said.

Archer is the focus of the 10-minute episode 1.

“From there, the reaction is, ‘we don’t want to just hear Dylan’s story, everyone goes through some really hard stuff and comes out the other side,’” Olivieri said.

“But what they needed was someone in a very similar circumstance and found hope and is at the point that they are ready to share with other people who might be suffering from what they were.”

And that could be a large variety of people.

“We’re looking for people who have gone through some issues with mental illness and have found their roads to mental wellness, whatever that is, whether it’s art therapy, hiking in the woods or pharmaceuticals or whatever,” Olivieri said. “We were filming acupuncture yesterday and that was just fascinating.”

Right now they are filming an episode with Miss Minneapolis 2014, Julia Schliesing, who has battled depression. Her pageant platform is suicide prevention.

Having these various stories gave Olivieri and Cowardin the opportunity to do episodes and make this a larger project than just one documentary. They do plan to do a full-length documentary in the future, but the episodes allow them more freedom.

“As the episodes come together, we’ll be painting a broad, or at least a broader, picture of people with mental illnesses,” Olivieri said.

Making a difference

“I had battled a lot of depression and suicide stuff and the last night I got pretty depressed, I was looking outward to find people I could turn to to help me,” Archer said.

Though he was looking for someone to make a difference in his life, he was also looking to make a difference in someone else’s life.

“I wanted to make sure I was contributing, and I wanted to show people that you can make a difference. Big or small, it’s going to help save someone’s life,” he said.

When Olivieri and Cowardin proposed that he be a part of the documentary, Archer said he saw it as a way to reach more people than he was with just his blog.

“I was on board from the get-go to help people as much as I could.”

They filmed Archer’s episode a few weeks ago in Detroit Lakes, edited it and posted it on the website to debut the project. Archer wasn’t exactly happy with the outcome at first.

“Initially I was a little bummed out. You’re condensing someone’s life story down to 10 minutes,” he said.

“He was mildly offended,” Olivieri said of Archer’s first reactions. “You summarize somebody’s life struggles into 10 minutes. You’re gonna miss out on things.”

He said it’s very difficult to cut a four-hour interview down to 10 minutes.

Archer said people only get to see a general idea of his illness and not the details that go along with the years of the illness he’s weathered.

“But overall the response has been good, and there’s so much support that you can’t really feel anything but be happy that people aren’t attacking you,” he said. “It’s educating you. I believe it helped people.

“I was pleasantly surprised after the initial ‘ah, I wish it was longer’ type thing,” he said.

Olivieri said that with their first episode getting out there, filming others and just making contacts, they have had an “unbelievable” amount of people wanting to share their story about mental illness, too.

“That’s what we started the project on: One in four will deal with something (mentally illness related) in a year, and those numbers are pretty easy to just go out on a street corner and find people,” he said.

Staying with the production

Though his episode is done and on the website for people to see, Archer has continued to be a part of the grander scale of production.

While Olivieri and Cowardin, who own Lola Visuals, take care of the filming and editing, Archer spends time on the social media aspect, continuing his blogging.

“I have a more intimate relationship with mental illness than they do,” he said, which is another part of his role in the production.

Archer said that a year ago when he started his blog, there was no way he thought he’d be helping with a project of this stature. The three men have premiered their documentary in Duluth and are headed back there to premier another. They have also done promotional work in the Twin Cities and Fargo, where they will be filming their fourth episode.

“I used that blog as an outlet. I just wanted to help at least one person that was feeling the same way that I was. Now we get the chance to help everybody who sees this. It’s a big opportunity,” Archer said.  

He said that the Call Me Mental project has really helped him with his own depression because meeting people with mental illnesses that he doesn’t deal with has given him insight into his own mental health.

“I gain something every time I meet someone related to this project. I try to input that into our project in every aspect that I can,” he said.

Funds to keep going

Having just raised $10,000 through donations for the project, the men can continue to document those living with various mental illnesses.

“It will prolong the life of this more so than what we initially thought,” Archer said. “We’re hoping to travel to more than just Minnesota.”

They are also working with Human Development Center out of Duluth on the project.

“That was really nice to see that we had 150-plus people willing to put money forward and say, ‘This needs to happen,’” Olivieri said of the Kickstarter fundraising effort.

“Kickstarter is not our primary fundraising by any means,” but with doing stories around Minnesota to begin with, they are able to work on a much smaller budget, he added.

“We’re finally nine months in and finding the people we were looking for. It’s not that they didn’t exist before but we’re narrowing down because we got so many people with stories,” he continued.

To view the documentary episodes and find out more about the Call Me Mental project, visit They will be premiering the second episode tonight (Wednesday) on the website.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.