Bryan Medical Center brought in Emmy Award winning actor Joey Pantoliano as the keynote speaker for their annual Mental Illness Awareness Week event on October 3rd. The room was packed with nearly 500 people wanting to hear the famous Joey Pants open up about his family’s history of mental illness, his past struggle with substance use, as well as his own journey of mental illness.
Since being diagnosed with clinical depression in 2007, Joey has become an outspoken advocate for mental illness, or as he prefers to call it, “mental dis-ease.” Prior to his diagnosis, Joey talked about his constant search for happiness; always thinking “If I had this, then I would be happy,” or “If I accomplish that, then I would be happy.” Even after winning an Emmy for his role on The Sopranos, he still felt hollow and unhappy. On the outside he seemed to have it all, but on the inside he was suffering.
Joey began having suicidal thoughts while filming the movie Canvas. The film was about a how a woman’s diagnosis of schizophrenia affected her relationships with her husband (played by Joey) and her son. During filming, Joey got news that his close friend took his own life only two days after they had just made plans to get together for Thanksgiving. “Rather than being angry, I immediately found myself wondering if suicide could be an option for me,” he said during an interview with ABC News.
It was at that point where he knew it was time to reach out for help. He often describes his diagnosis of depression as the best thing that has ever happened to him because allowed him to begin treating the mental pain he had been experiencing for over a decade.
“There’s a lot of shame that’s engaged in mental dis-ease. In my own situation, I made the decision that mental dis-ease didn’t have to be a permanent condition,” he said.
Joey is very open about using medication and exercise, particularly running and yoga, to help him manage his depressive symptoms. He even started a non-profit called, No Kidding, Me too!, which promotes the message that we must stomp out the stigma of mental illness through education and simple conversation.
“What I came to understand is that when I shared my journey with other people and they shared their journey through their own pain with me, I felt less alone,” he said. “In telling my story, I hoped to be able to create empathy in other people so through the process of identification, they could access the help they needed.”
Jill Hamilton, Senior Project Coordinator, The Kim Foundation
Jill Hamilton has been a Project Coordinator at The Kim Foundation since 2014. She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and a Speech Communication Minor from The University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2009. Since working at the foundation, she has become an active member of the Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition and The Metro Area Suicide Prevention Coalition, Nebraska LOSS Advisory Committee, The Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition, is Chair of the Nebraska LOSS Teams Conference Planning Committee, and serves as the Outreach Coordinator for the Metro Area LOSS Team.