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Film and panel discussion at Cornell focus on destigmatizing mental illness


"Physical illness, mental illness, what's the difference? Why won't my HMO cover this?" For families learning to cope with the costs of mental illness, this is a very familiar question. On Jan. 24, a panel discussion addressed this and other questions following a film depiction of the devastating effects of schizophrenia on one family.

The National Alliance for Mental Health (NAMI), Cornell Minds Matter and the Ithaca-based Compos Mentis co-sponsored a screening of "Canvas," starring Marcia Gay Harden, at Cornell Cinema in Willard Straight Hall. The film tells the story of a 10-year-old boy whose mother is schizophrenic and whose loyal and loving father's patience is stretched beyond endurance.

"We have a lot to offer such families, but what we have is far from perfect," said panel member and local psychiatrist Howard Feinstein, before a full audience. "We have a very rich, forthcoming, devoted community that's intent on not putting up a fence," between those with mental illness and the rest of the city.

"When the shock of the initial mental illness devastated everyone, I could see how each person was trying to take care of themselves, trying to just survive," said panelist Casey Carr, assistant dean of students for student support and adviser for Cornell Minds Matter. "But as the film goes on, we see how everyone tries to take care of themselves, and take care of each other.

"Friends and family are important," said Carr, whose sister is diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Also on the panel was graduate student Miles Garrett, chair of community outreach for Compos Mentis, and Cornell writer Carole Stone, founding director of Compos Mentis.

Cornell Minds Matter is a student organization that promotes the overall mental health of Cornell students and works to reduce the stigma of mental illness. Its meetings, Tuesdays at 4:30 p.m. on the fifth-floor lounge of Willard Straight Hall, are open to the entire Cornell community.

Compos Mentis offers adults who have been diagnosed with a mental illness a place to work in community with others and engage in purposeful activities under the supervision of staff members and trained volunteers.

Elan Greenberg '08 is a writer intern at the Cornell Chronicle.


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