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How One Kid Dealt with Mental Illness

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"You're only as sick as your secrets."

Joey Pantoliano

Dr. Wendy Walsh: So goes one of the opening lines of a new documentary aimed at exposing and eliminating the stigma against mental illness. "No Kidding, Me Too!" was produced by "Sopranos" star Joey Pantoliano.

Grade school teachers used to tell Pantoliano that he wasn't stupid -- he was just lazy. His parents believed the same thing. So did Joey, who felt his tender self-esteem slip away as he stared at his dismal report cards. But what none of them knew is that Joey's problem wasn't laziness or stupidity. It was undiagnosed learning disabilities. As a teenager, that seed grew into undiagnosed clinical depression, which in turn morphed into unhealthy habits of self-medication -- substance abuse and high-risk sexual behavior.

Flash forward to adult life. With a string of top movies and a hit television show, Joey should have been on top of the world. Instead, he was a family man who terrorized his household with anger and control that involved harsh critical tirades and rampages of purging where he would literally throw beloved family treasures in the trash.

In a new documentary, "No Kidding, Me Too!," Joey Pants (as he likes to be called) reveals the dark side of his personal battle with mental disease, and his family's climb from dysfunction to function. His wife Nancy withstood much abuse and infidelity and remains with him today, saying in the documentary that she finally has her husband back again. They continue to bond through emotional intimacy, the only sure cure for family dysfunction. "It's about trust," says Joey. "If you know that someone truly has your back, you can accomplish anything." Joey's mission today: To share his family's story with families everywhere -- to erase the stigma associated with mental illness, and to make sure that all families get the support and funding they need to treat their condition.

For Joey Pantoliano, the turning point for him came when a dear lifelong friend committed suicide. In the days that followed, a grieving Joey found something else inside himself -- deep empathy, a silent knowing that this terrifying act could also be a problem solver. Joey saw the benefit of suicide, and knew he had to get help. Once he was diagnosed with clinical depression, he joined a 12-step program to begin the process of letting go of his crutches. As the cloud of drugs and alcohol began to pass, Joey finally began to become clear on the debilitating nature of his mental disease. It has been four years now, and Joey continues to rebuild his family system.

Today, Joey's concern for those who suffer from all mental illness has led him to shine his spotlight on a national epidemic -- the shocking suicide rate of young military people serving abroad. "Six to eight soldiers serving in Iraq kill themselves every day. And at home, another 18 commit suicide every day as they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder," Joey says. "Even the military is confused. More soldiers are dying from self-inflicted wounds than enemy attacks!"

To that end, Joey and other celebrities like Marcia Gay Harden, along with an advisory board of psychiatrists, do tours of American military bases in Iraq, educating personnel about mental illness. Joey's ultimate goal? To see a day where mental illness has lost its stigma and becomes the coffee table chat of all American mothers instead of a shameful hidden secret.

Joey smiles as he envisions this. "I want it to be so normal for one mother to say, 'Did you hear? My son got into Yale,' and another mom to proudly pipe in with, 'Did you hear? my son got diagnosed with depression and now has the right meds!'"

next: Preschool Musical
4 comments so far | Post a comment now
Natalie November 6, 2009, 6:05 AM

It’s nice to see celebrities doing good, and actually changing their lives.

Anonymous November 7, 2009, 4:06 PM

It needs to be put out in the open more often .It’s sad to think that people go into the hospital with a broken leg and get sympathy ,but if you go in for any mental health issues every one trys to cover up and ignore where you’ve been no cards no flowers no acknowlegement.I’m sure most people have been affected by metal health issues dirrectly in indirrectly at some point.It should be okay to acknowlege it. it

MerrieWay November 8, 2009, 11:51 PM

Check for the underlying causes. A young woman with extreme mood swings, had been diagnosed with bi-polar. Her internist performed addtional tests and discovered she had a rare form of diabetes. By treating it, the mental illness symptoms stopped.
A psychiatrist makes a quick diagnosis based on symtoms…let’s not stop there. Get more tests…make sure, if you can. MerrieWay gives 2 thumbs up for Joey Pantaliano stepping up.

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