'Call Me Crazy': Jennifer Hudson and Ashley Judd among famous faces exploring mental illness for Lifetime

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A schizophrenic hears voices and breaks from reality. A bipolar mom careens down the road, driving like, well, a maniac. A returning vet suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder because her commanding officer repeatedly raped her.

These examples of mental illness, usually fodder for somber documentaries, are presented as fictional accounts with uplifting resolutions in Lifetime's "Call Me Crazy: A Five Film," premiering Saturday, April 20.

The movie is five short films, with different directors, including Bryce Dallas Howard, Ashley Judd and Laura Dern, and starring Brittany Snow, Jennifer Hudson and Melissa Leo.  Jennifer Aniston and Marta Kauffman are executive producers.

"It opened my eyes and exposed me to what that life is," Hudson tells Zap2it of her character, Maggie, the traumatized soldier. "She is a mother and a daughter, and she appears to be completely normal, but something like the rape happened to her and made her that much different. Throughout the story, she is totally normal, just this normal person, and at night she completely changes, and the PTSD kicks in."

Making her directorial debut in this segment, Judd, a champion of women's issues, says this segment is "incredibly topical and salient."

Maggie can be helped, as can the others.

"It is possible to claim one's own trauma without minimizing it, in spite of what another may or may not call it," Judd says. "And equally, recovery from trauma is accessible and possible, and there are a lot of tools and resources that address trauma, and hopefully folks may identify either personally with their own experience or vicariously and reach out for help."

One character, Lucy (Brittany Snow, "Pitch Perfect"), a schizophrenic, is in three of the five films. She needs help, receives it and finally helps Maggie.

As a law student, she's studying and starts hearing voices. While in the hospital, she meets a lovely guy who tried to kill himself ( Jason Ritter) and a therapist ( Octavia Spencer, "The Help") who helps her.

Howard ("The Help"), a lifelong friend of Ritter, cast him and Snow. Howard also took directing advice from her dad, Ron Howard.

Helping people cope with psychological issues was personal for Howard.

"After the birth of my first child, I had extremely severe postpartum depression for almost two years," Howard says. "It was untreated. I felt so much shame around the emotions I was experiencing, and since then I have done quite a bit of research."

She received help and is very clear about distinguishing among schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, all in the film.

In "Grace" Melissa Leo plays a loving mom who is bipolar and whose daughter ( Sarah Hyland) takes care of her when she can't function. In "Eddie," Lea Thompson's husband is a depressed stand-up comic who almost commits suicide.

In each story, those suffering are lucky enough to be surrounded by people who help them get psychiatric care.

Each film does an excellent job of revealing the havoc mental illness causes. To prepare for playing a schizophrenic, Snow talked with a psychiatrist and filled a notebook with her research.

"I love playing characters that go from the beginning of what they are going through to the end and are coming to terms with who they are and how they can recover," Snow says.

"This shines a light on something a lot of people don't want to talk about and affects everyone," she says. "It is about time that we show the stories of the actual people and bring awareness and not make any judgments about it. I think a lot of people will, maybe, take hope."
Photo/Video credit: Lifetime