Film's portrayal of mentally ill prompts action on Whidbey

"Whidbey Island mental health advocates are not only protesting a movie showing at The Clyde Theatre tonight, but they're offering a helping hand to families impacted by mental disease.The Jim Carrey movie, Me, Myself and Irene, has people like Julie O'Brien upset. As the mother of a grown son who is battling mental illness, O'Brien says the so-called comedy sends plenty of wrong messages, particularly to kids who may not know any better.The movie has attracted similar criticism nationally, and when O'Brien learned it was booked at The Clyde she felt she had to see it before making a local issue of it. If you're going to draw attention to it, it's only fair to see it, she said Wednesday.With some trepidation, O'Brien watched a daytime screening of the film at an Alderwood theater and her worst fears were realized. It's degrading to anyone with mental illness, she said. It's real hurtful to anyone with mental illness.In the film, Carrey plays a man with a split personality, a condition erroneously labeled as schizophrenia. But it's not that factual error so much that really bothers O'Brien and other local mental health workers and volunteers. In one scene he's taking medication and foaming at the mouth, she said. And she fears children will see the movie and walk away with cute little degrading phrases like 'mental' and 'schizo'.Because there is still a stigma attached to mental illness, few who suffer from the disease will come forward in public. O'Brien said her son, who went through South Whidbey schools, has a disorder that first manifested itself when he was in his late teens. He has a different name and now spends most of his time on the mainland.O'Brien fears that Me, Myself and Irene will cause some teen or young adult who may be thinking about asking for help to refrain from doing so. Those are the kids we need to recruit, she said. Now, that's the last kid who's going to say, 'Mom, I'm feeling weird, can we do something'?Like many families dealing with mental illness, O'Brien said hers did not identify the real problem as early as they should have. It's real common not to get an early diagnosis, she said. It's seen as a family issue.As with any physical illness, O'Brien said the earlier a mental illness is diagnosed the better for the patient and his or her family. Even if you only suspect there's a problem, get help. Err on the side of caution as you would with any illness, she said.O'Brien said her family found help through the Whidbey Island Chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, which offers a family education program that she now helps teach. It made a big difference in our lives, she said.Critics of Me, Myself and Irene don't blame The Clyde's owners for bringing it to town, they just want to make an educational experience out of it.Talk to your kids before they attend or even after they've seen the movie, recommends O'Brien. Do not allow any degrading comments about the mentally ill, and talk about mental health issues with the children.Even if it happens in only one house it will be worth it, O'Brien said.Mental illness help availableHelp is available on South Whidbey for people with severe mental illness and their family members. Here are some contact numbers. All information is kept confidential.*Family Members Support GroupAnn Sullivan: 331-6774*Family to Family CourseRobin Farrand: 1-888-841-2959Julie O'Brien: 579-5744*Island Mental HealthSite manager/county liaison, Robin Farrand: 1-888-841-2959General number: 321-4868*National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, Whidbey IslandPresident, Molly Houlihan: 360-678-7358Julie O'Brien: 579-5744"

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