Movie Club: Unrest

Four doodles are gathered in a living room staring forward, as if watching a screen. One is eating popcorn.

Today, dear readers, we want to tell you about a documentary that has some of us at We ❤︎ Health Literacy Headquarters talking. Unrest chronicles filmmaker Jennifer Brea’s experience with a complex and confusing illness: myalgic encephalomyelitis, also called chronic fatigue syndrome or ME/CFS.

Through her own story and the stories of others living with ME/CFS, Brea offers a sensitive, honest look at the inherent challenges of the disease — as well as the accompanying struggles that have nothing to do with ME/CFS itself.

Unrest explores the medical community’s lack of understanding about ME/CFS and the implications of that for people living with the disease. Before being diagnosed, Brea was repeatedly disbelieved by doctors or told that her illness was “all in her head” — something that’s unfortunately very common for people with ME/CFS (and perhaps especially for women).

The film also highlights how people with disabilities or chronic illnesses are using the internet to connect with each other, to find the answers their doctors are unable to provide, and to organize and advocate for themselves.

We talk a lot in these posts about the best ways to communicate health information. In Unrest, Brea chronicles the harm that can result when patients, families, and doctors don’t even have the information — and how empowering it is when people are able to connect and share knowledge. For us as health communicators, it’s an important reminder of why we do what we do.

The bottom line: Unrest is a powerful documentary that offers a window into the experience of living with a mysterious chronic illness. Watch it on PBS (until January 23) or Netflix.