'Mad Pride' Activists Say They're Unique, Not Sick

"Mad Pride" activists fight against stigma of mental illness.

ByABC News
August 21, 2009, 12:24 PM

Aug. 24, 2009— -- Imagine if Vincent Van Gogh -- an artist who was famously afflicted with mental health issues -- had been forcibly injected with an antipsychotic drug like Thorazine. Or if Leonardo Da Vinci's genius had been affected by antidepressants such as Wellbutrin.

That's what San Francisco-based music artist Madigan Shive wondered.

"I think often that if DaVinci were alive during our time, would we just dope him up? What would we do?" she asked.

It's a question being asked by a growing grass roots movement about 8,000 members strong -- many of whom are rejecting pharmaceutical solutions for psychiatric conditions and fighting the stigmatization and shame of mental illness.

You've heard of Black Pride and Gay Pride. Now make room for Mad Pride.

Mad pride supporters -- many dealing with serious mental disorders -- are now boldly coming out of the closet. Actor Joe Pantoliano of "The Sopranos" fame views his depression as a gift.

"The best thing that ever happened to me was being diagnosed with a mental disease," Pantoliano told ABC News.

It wasn't until being diagnosed with clinical depression that Pantoliano realized he had spent years self-medicating his anguish.

"All I've ever been looking to do was fill up a hole that was inside of me," he revealed. "It didn't matter what I was filling it up with ... success, women, a beautiful runway model wife ... because that made it go away temporarily."

He credits his mental illness diagnosis as the reason for being a happier and more creative person.

"I embrace who I am. I took my sadness and I turned it into a career," Pantoliano said .

Pantoliano has set out to help others cast off the stigma and shame he said is attached to mental health issues. He created a nonprofit organization, No Kidding, Me Too!, "based on accepting, encouraging people to admit to their disease -- to seek treatment and become even greater members of society."

Enlisting a crew of celebrities -- including Robin Williams, Samuel L. Jackson, and Robert Downey, Jr. -- Pantoliano's organization assembles industry professionals who support its mission to get out the word about mental illness and treatment.

"We want to make the discussion of mental illness cool and sexy and trendy," he said.

\"All I've ever been looking to do was fill up a hole that was inside of me,\" he revealed. \"It didn't matter what I was filling it up with ... success, women, a beautiful runway model wife ... because that made it go away temporarily.\"

He credits his mental illness diagnosis as the reason for being a happier and more creative person.

\"I embrace who I am. I took my sadness and I turned it into a career,\" Pantoliano said .

Pantoliano has set out to help others cast off the stigma and shame he said is attached to mental health issues. He created a nonprofit organization, No Kidding, Me Too!, \"based on accepting, encouraging people to admit to their disease -- to seek treatment and become even greater members of society.\"

Enlisting a crew of celebrities -- including Robin Williams, Samuel L. Jackson, and Robert Downey, Jr. -- Pantoliano's organization assembles industry professionals who support its mission to get out the word about mental illness and treatment.

\"We want to make the discussion of mental illness cool and sexy and trendy,\" he said.

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