National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Big Stars Shine Light on Mental Illness in New TV Movies
By Katrina Gay, NAMI Director of Communications
In April, Lifetime Television premiered Call Me Crazy, a series of interconnected short films that deal with the subject of mental illness. Through five short stories named after each title character—Lucy, Eddie, Allison, Grace and Maggie—powerful relationships built on hope and triumph give viewers a new understanding of what happens when a loved one struggles with mental illness.
The two-hour movie event aired on television on Sat., April 20. NAMI attended the premiere on April 16 in Los Angeles and was honored by the network for its work on behalf of individuals and families affected by mental illness. In addition, Lifetime presented NAMI with a generous contribution and a public service announcement titled It’s Time. The PSA features testimonials by many of the film’s talent, including Brittany Snow, Jennifer Hudson, Octavia Spencer, Ernie Hudson, Jean Smart, Melissa Leo and others, who all joined together to urge action and support for NAMI.
Other stars associated with the film included Jennifer Anniston, who served as one of the film’s executive producers, and Ashley Judd, who directed Maggie.
One of the shorts, Lucy, which was written by Deirdre O’Connor and directed by Bryce Dallas Howard, follows the film’s title character, a law student living with schizophrenia. Through the support of a new friend she meets in the hospital, medication and her psychotherapist, she begins her path to not only healing, but a promising future.
Lucy is played by singer and actress Brittany Snow (Hairspray, Pitch Perfect). NAMI spoke with Ms. Snow about her role and the film.
How did you prepare for your role, portraying a woman with schizophrenia?
Actually, it wasn’t easy. I didn’t find out that I had the part until the Thursday before filming, which began the following Monday. I sequestered myself for the weekend, read all I could find on the subject and watched a lot of YouTube. I watched interviews and simulations of psychosis and individuals with schizophrenia. Listening to the audio samples about the voices (auditory hallucinations), I learned how difficult it can be. I also spoke with a psychiatrist and individuals who were helpful in explaining the science behind schizophrenia, as well as the struggles I would experience. I read books and viewed interviews. I did as much research as I could in that short period of time.
What was the most important take-away from your research?
How strong people living with schizophrenia are, how much respect I have for them and their condition. I tried to be realistic in my portrayal of Lucy and was also trying to make sure she was someone that the viewer could relate to. I wanted to convey how terrible and hurtful the voices can be, and also that with treatment and support and patience, things can get better. I also wanted to make sure that people don’t think it is as simple as taking a pill and it goes away. It can be challenging. It can be dark. I wanted to convey hope without denying the darkness.
Have you had any personal experience with schizophrenia or other mental illness in your life?
Yes. I have friends and have known others who have had mental illness. My best friend’s mom has schizophrenia. Her recovery has helped me have perspective and understanding. Mental illness is prominent, it is alive. Everyone can relate to someone with mental illness.
What did you learn from playing this character? What is the core message you want to convey?
Playing Lucy, I tapped into the part of myself that won’t let me lose hope. We can relate to the sense of losing hope in ourselves and wanting to give up. Lucy inspired me; there is hope for people with mental illness. With treatment and support, they can find success. I would like to think, too, that viewers could be challenged about any sense of stigma they may hold and that they would open themselves to conversations with friends and family on how they can connect with people they know who may be struggling with a mental illness.
You are the co-founder of Love is Louder, an initiative of The Jed Foundation and MTV. How did your work with the program influence you in this role? How do you feel about your experience as an advocate?
Love is Louder was started by The Jed Foundation, MTV and myself to build on the outpouring of support online after the lives of multiple teenagers were lost to suicide in September 2010. I have been involved ever since and focus much of my effort on college campuses, striving to help raise mental health awareness and engage in suicide-prevention activities. I have always felt passionate about mental health, and yet I was surprised to learn that no one knew about my involvement in this work or this passion when casting me for this part. So, I think that it must have been meant to be. I am honored to have the chance to play this part.
Do you have plans for continuing to raise awareness for mental illness?
Definitely. I spend about 50 percent of my time now still working on Love is Louder. That will continue, of course. And when I do a film like this and play a character who lives with schizophrenia, I hope that helps raise awareness and gets people talking.
You and some of the other cast of the film generously contributed to a PSA, “It’s Time to Shine the Light … and Focus Our Lens on Mental Illness.” How do you finish the challenge, the sentence “It’s Time to …?”
It is time to do something. People living with mental illness may be shy, scared or fearful to talk about what they are going through. The more we do, the more we start the conversation, the better for everyone.
NAMI extends its gratitude to Lifetime Networks and to the talented actors who contributed so generously in support of NAMI. Check out www.nami.org/itstime to learn more about the films.