Calen Pick has schizoaffective disorder, a combination ofschizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He was 15 when he realized somethingwas wrong, 16 when he checked himself into a lockdown mental healthfacility, 18 when he got out and 28 when his sanity touched down onsolid ground.
Now 31, Calen got married last year and, along withhis mother, Jessie Close, who is bipolar, and his aunt, six-time Oscarnominee Glenn Close, is working toward ending stigma and discriminationof the mentally ill through the foundation BringChange2Mind, which Glennfounded in 2009.
"The most powerful way to change someone's viewis to meet them," says Glenn. "People who do come out and talk aboutmental illness, that's when healing can really begin. You can lead aproductive life."
Jessie and Calen, who are both easily unsettledby loud noises and large crowds, took the issue of stigma front andcenter, literally. In 2010, with Calen wearing a T-shirt with "Schizo"printed on it and his mother wearing one that said "Bipolar," theywalked into Grand Central Station in New York City and stood there tofilm a PSA directed by Ron Howard.
"It was scary. People juststared at us," says Calen. "But I think of myself as an intact soul, sofor me to put myself out there like that, I hope initiates more peopleto talk about it. Just talking about mental illness would do it a greatservice."
Their effort seems to have paid off: that PSA, which also features John Mayer's Say, has aired in 800 million households.
Accordingto BringChange2Mind, one in four families is affected by mentalillness. When Jessie started showing signs in her early twenties,bipolar disorder was largely unknown. "At that time, it was reallycommon to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. Then I was given myfirst treatment in my late forties and finally, the correct diagnosis -and medication - when I was 51," Jessie says. "I'll be 60 in July and Igrieved for those lost years. There were careers I couldn't handlebecause of it. I wish I was able to get help earlier."
In their second PSA, Schizo,which will be out May 21, Calen steps into the spotlight. The PSA playslike a trailer for a horror film, ending with the camera shooting down adark hallway, a door opening and Calen standing in a kitchen, pouringhimself a cup of coffee. "I'm sorry to disappoint you," he says in thefinal scene.
"When he got out of that mental health facility,(Calen) never took off his dark sunglasses, which helped him be aroundlarge groups of people. Once Jessie came to visit me in New York Cityand she had to leave a restaurant we were in because it was too noisyand she went to sit on a stoop to collect herself," says Glenn. "So that(Jessie and Calen) were brave enough to wear those T-shirts, standingin a place as busy and echo-ey as Grand Central Station, is miraculous."
ThatCalen and Jessie have stepped out from the shadows to share theirexperiences is a rarity; one that they hope will inspire not just peoplewith mental illness to come forward, but policy makers to start puttinglaws in place to protect them and to put mental health care on paritywith other health care.
"If you change policies, eventually thatwill affect what people think," says Bernice Pescosolido, an IndianaUniversity professor who focuses on mental health care, stigma andsuicide research. "There are two parts to mental literacy, one isknowledge and the other is what to do about it. That's where we need tomake progress. How do we get through the door? Insurance doesn't addresslong-term help. And service isn't available everywhere, especially asyou get to more rural areas."
The backbone of Calen's progress isthe support from his family. "If our family had not supported Calen, hewould have been caught up in that terrible cycle of jail, street, jail,street," says Glenn. "What do people do when they're in that cycle? Idon't have a good answer to that."
Schizophrenia is not only themost serious of mental illnesses, but the most stigmatized. "Fear islodged with people who don't know someone with mental illness. How youtreat someone with cancer or diabetes is more accepting than someonewith mental illness," says Pescosolido. "If you can see the entireperson, not just the label, and the more people interact, then the morethat the attitudes go away. Contact is a powerful predictor of greatertolerance."
For those first brutal years when Calen was psychotic,Jessie, despite also suffering from a serious mental illness, foundherself at a loss as to how to handle her son's erratic behavior. "Oneafternoon, we were standing in the yard and he said that the TV antennawas put there to keep track of him," she recalls. "When he wasoverwhelmed, he'd rock, with his forearms tight against his thighs, hishair hanging down."
With a combination of talk therapy, carefulmedication and the support of his family, Calen pieced together hissplintered sanity. "It was scary not knowing where to draw the line; myimagination just didn't know how to stop," he says. "It was like a freeassociation of everything around me. Everything took a special meaning;it was thoughts building on thoughts and me trying to put reason tothem. It was a good 10 years, every hour I was awake, I lived in hell."
Asthe psychiatric field and policymakers search for a solution, familiesand patients can find relief through organizations likeBringChange2Mind. "I would love BringChange2Mind not have to be anymore,which is when people are talking about mental illness without shame orjudgment," says Glenn. "It's about social inclusion and when people areenlightened then change can happen."