Can it really be? Have five years really gone by? I know the Grand Central Station PSA was shot near the end of 2009 and Glenn got BringChange2Mind.org going in 2010 but that doesn’t seem to be as many years as this message feels right now. We have accomplished a lot and then again so much more needs to be done.
Stigma, unfortunately, is still rampant here in the States and throughout the world but I have heard hundreds of stories that attest to the fact that our work has impacted many.
Stigma is prejudice, shame. Even on my computer dictionary stigma is defined as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person: the stigma of mental disorder.” I can’t believe they used mental illness for the definition, but I’m not surprised.
I remember the first time I stood in a public place and, because my t-shirt said ‘bipolar’ on it, everyone around me knew my shame. And everyone was looking at me because I was standing with Glenn. I was standing with Glenn and Ron Howard was behind the camera and I kept forgetting my lines. I wanted to sink into the floor. After a few tries Ron Howard got a piece of cardboard, wrote my one line on it and taped it to the bottom lip of the camera lens. I tried hiding behind my hair but all that did was show me, in that Grand Central PSA, with hair covering half my face and it looks terrible. When we took a break I crumpled into an armchair. There’s an echo inside Grand Central Station and the noise was reverberating inside my head.
When Glenn asked my son, Calen, and me to do this I had no idea what it would be like. Curled up in the armchair I wished I wasn’t there. But three things kept me going: Calen, my daughter, Mattie, who came with us from Montana and my tiny dog, Snitz, who was my Service Dog. Snitz was only 4 years old at the time and was a great comfort. Calen lives with schizophrenia and that’s what his t-shirt said. I was worried about him. Mattie was a comfort to us both. She is a sweet, strong young woman and I leaned on her. And of course Glenn was there. She was worried about all of us!! But we did it. WE DID IT!!! And when the PSA was released it made an immediate impact in the world of mental health. No one had ever done something so bold and the fact that Glenn and Ron Howard were instrumental in the production was bolder still. Glenn put her reputation on the line by helping Calen and me and all the mentally ill like us.
Two years before, I had asked my dear sister to help, somehow, with getting rid of the stigma that we, as the mentally ill, face on a daily basis. At the time I wasn’t thinking of just myself. I was talking mostly about Calen who was abandoned by all his friends when he came home from the hospital, and before that actually. I didn’t understand why we, as a society, make jokes about the mentally ill. We know it’s in bad taste to make jokes about people suffering with cancer or heart disease. Who has suffered from cancer and endured insults. Insulting someone with mental illness is not frowned on, calling me crazy or insane or mentally deranged comes so easily to the lips of many. It’s that damning attitude that we must continue fighting and fighting and fighting.
These days, five years after the Grand Central Station PSA shoot, Calen, Glenn and I continue to speak out. We have spoken to thousands with only the minimum of nerves; practice makes perfect. The word ‘stigma’ is widely used and I’ve seen the word pop up many times in articles and newsletters and other organizations. This is a battle that isn’t about to stop. I’m proud to say that we are, literally, bringing change to minds.
I must give voice to something that we all find disturbing: the mentally ill involved in shootings. All I can say is that these people are a tiny minority. These people needed help a long time before they act out. It’s imperative that we have community mental health centers that are available to all.
I hope the next five years see even more acceptance of mental illness. For those of us who live with these illnesses, it is our responsibility to take care of ourselves. And I hope the public understands, once and for all, that stigma is prejudice. We will be comforted by their acceptance.