Calen Pick has schizoaffective disorder, a combination of
schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He was 15 when he realized something
was wrong, 16 when he checked himself into a lockdown mental health
facility, 18 when he got out and 28 when his sanity touched down on
Now 31, Calen got married last year and, along with
his mother, Jessie Close, who is bipolar, and his aunt, six-time Oscar
nominee Glenn Close, is working toward ending stigma and discrimination
of the mentally ill through the foundation BringChange2Mind, which Glenn
founded in 2009.
"The most powerful way to change someone's view
is to meet them," says Glenn. "People who do come out and talk about
mental illness, that's when healing can really begin. You can lead a
Jessie and Calen, who are both easily unsettled
by loud noises and large crowds, took the issue of stigma front and
center, literally. In 2010, with Calen wearing a T-shirt with "Schizo"
printed on it and his mother wearing one that said "Bipolar," they
walked into Grand Central Station in New York City and stood there to
film a PSA directed by Ron Howard.
"It was scary. People just
stared at us," says Calen. "But I think of myself as an intact soul, so
for me to put myself out there like that, I hope initiates more people
to talk about it. Just talking about mental illness would do it a great
Their effort seems to have paid off: that PSA, which also features John Mayer's Say, has aired in 800 million households.
to BringChange2Mind, one in four families is affected by mental
illness. When Jessie started showing signs in her early twenties,
bipolar disorder was largely unknown. "At that time, it was really
common to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. Then I was given my
first 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 I
grieved for those lost years. There were careers I couldn't handle
because 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 plays
like a trailer for a horror film, ending with the camera shooting down a
dark hallway, a door opening and Calen standing in a kitchen, pouring
himself a cup of coffee. "I'm sorry to disappoint you," he says in the
"When he got out of that mental health facility,
(Calen) never took off his dark sunglasses, which helped him be around
large groups of people. Once Jessie came to visit me in New York City
and she had to leave a restaurant we were in because it was too noisy
and 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, standing
in a place as busy and echo-ey as Grand Central Station, is miraculous."
Calen and Jessie have stepped out from the shadows to share their
experiences is a rarity; one that they hope will inspire not just people
with mental illness to come forward, but policy makers to start putting
laws in place to protect them and to put mental health care on parity
with other health care.
"If you change policies, eventually that
will affect what people think," says Bernice Pescosolido, an Indiana
University professor who focuses on mental health care, stigma and
suicide research. "There are two parts to mental literacy, one is
knowledge and the other is what to do about it. That's where we need to
make progress. How do we get through the door? Insurance doesn't address
long-term help. And service isn't available everywhere, especially as
you get to more rural areas."
The backbone of Calen's progress is
the support from his family. "If our family had not supported Calen, he
would 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? I
don't have a good answer to that."
Schizophrenia is not only the
most serious of mental illnesses, but the most stigmatized. "Fear is
lodged with people who don't know someone with mental illness. How you
treat someone with cancer or diabetes is more accepting than someone
with mental illness," says Pescosolido. "If you can see the entire
person, not just the label, and the more people interact, then the more
that the attitudes go away. Contact is a powerful predictor of greater
For those first brutal years when Calen was psychotic,
Jessie, despite also suffering from a serious mental illness, found
herself at a loss as to how to handle her son's erratic behavior. "One
afternoon, we were standing in the yard and he said that the TV antenna
was put there to keep track of him," she recalls. "When he was
overwhelmed, he'd rock, with his forearms tight against his thighs, his
hair hanging down."
With a combination of talk therapy, careful
medication and the support of his family, Calen pieced together his
splintered sanity. "It was scary not knowing where to draw the line; my
imagination just didn't know how to stop," he says. "It was like a free
association of everything around me. Everything took a special meaning;
it was thoughts building on thoughts and me trying to put reason to
them. It was a good 10 years, every hour I was awake, I lived in hell."
the psychiatric field and policymakers search for a solution, families
and patients can find relief through organizations like
BringChange2Mind. "I would love BringChange2Mind not have to be anymore,
which is when people are talking about mental illness without shame or
judgment," says Glenn. "It's about social inclusion and when people are
enlightened then change can happen."