Ending the stigma around mental illness

The Close family believes in the power of stories. This is why in 2009, Glenn Close, her sister, Jessie Close, and her nephew, Calen Pick, made the decision to share their story with the world — to help end the stigma and discrimination around mental illness that kept them silent for too long. They wanted to encourage others to open up about their own experiences, and to feel comfortable seeking the help necessary to lead full, successful lives. With these goals in mind, they co-founded Bring Change 2 Mind (BC2M) in 2010. Six years later the non-profit organization remains dedicated to starting, and continuing, the conversation about mental health.

Amongst its many programs and campaigns, BC2M has three major focuses; Public Service Announcements (PSAs); UBC2M, the College Toolkit Pilot Project; and a high school anti-stigma program called LETSBringChange2Mind (LETS BC2M). Additionally, through hundreds of stories and blogs from community members, the BC2M website and social media platforms have become a space where people are able to remember that they are not alone. Below, BC2M shares one of these incredibly powerful stories to shine a light on stigma. These are Lia Salvatierra’s words.

Mental Illness. Two words. Many assumptions. Two words synonymous with guilt, shame, and stigma. Two words misunderstood. Two words silenced. But I want to speak to this silence. By adding my story to the collage created by many, I aim to change perceptions and create awareness. I am not trying to shift the tectonic plates of your brain enough to create a mountain. In fact, I know I can’t. But, I’m aiming to create a small earthquake. And, I hope that this earthquake will bring up awareness, spark new ideas, and form positive perceptions of mental illness.

There is a story of a man who grew up with little, but formed his own future. He graduated from Georgetown University, and was accepted to Stanford Business School. Surprisingly, he turned down the offer for a start-up by the name of eBay. He married, had three daughters, and worked so hard always striving for new ideas and innovations. This man, and the smartest person I knew, was my father. He passed away from mental illness four years ago.

I had no idea that my dad was suffering until I found out that it took his life. I ask myself why I didn’t know, or if I even wanted to know. But, when I look at how mental illness is portrayed, I understand. Less than 15 people knew that my dad was suffering from the time he was diagnosed until his death.

What my dad was going through was the result of a disease. He was not crazy. He lived with bipolar, OCD, and depression — but that did not form his amazing character. Some people might think that my dad chose to die because the way that he died is traditionally thought of as a choice — suicide. But his passing was the result of a sickness. The mixed up chemistry in his brain had a horrible fatal result, just like any other disease would mess with your body.

That is the actuality of the illness. When these truths are mangled, twisted, and turned into offensive stigma, the silence and pain continues. We need to be able to talk about mental illness like any other disease. The volumes on the voices that offend, discriminate, and isolate people should be muted. The voices that are talking about mental illness like a disease and respecting the struggles of those dealing with it — these voices need to shout.

My mom tells me that pink clouds are the mark of someone who has passed smiling down at you. Wherever there are pink clouds right now, dad, this is for you. I am doing this for you — to give back for all you have given me. I love you and miss you all the time. I promise that things are going to change, that mental illness will not be something to be ashamed of, and that the conversation will start. Also — I am going to edit my earlier analogy — I do want to create a mountain, but with small earthquakes, and you are going to be one of the many. The shaking in your brain will destroy the negative perceptions of the disease, and newer, more positive ones will build. The news of these earthquakes will spread around the world, with many more people offering support. I believe that this mountain will form, it will be tall and strong and proud. Many people will climb this mountain, and it will be harder for some than others, but the end will justify the means. The view from the peak of the mountain will make the whole journey worth it, because there will be those beautiful pink clouds smiling down on this marvelous mountain that has been created.

Lia, 14, is a BC2M advocate and a co-founder of the Palo Alto High School LETS BC2M Club. And, her story is part of BC2M’s new PSA, #MindOurFuture. This campaign asks younger generations to take part in a movement to end the fear, shame, and misunderstanding of mental health issues by sharing their stories through a variety of mediums including video, written word, song, and art. This topic is often daunting, and the unfamiliar makes many uncomfortable, so #MindOurFuture breaks it down to its simplest form: a conversation — one that changes the narrative of mental illness from one of stigma to one of hope. In April, BC2M will be selecting a handful of submissions to be featured in this professionally produced, nationally distributed PSA.