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Artist Shines a Light on Hidden Disease

By Kevin McCormack

It's estimated that more than 50 million Americans suffer from some form of mental illness every year. But despite those numbers, mental illness is still all too often a hidden problem. Now one Bay Area artist is taking his personal struggle into the open, making a documentary, trying to break through the stigma and show the human face of the disease.

John Cadigan began documenting his more than ten year battle with schizophrenia shortly after the disease first hit, when he was in his senior year of art college. It was a frightening, uncertain time. But John decided rather than hide he would turn his disease into a film.

John Cadigan, film maker/artist "I wanted to make the film as an exploration of what was going on with me, and trying to figure that out and document that."

He enlisted the help of his sister Katie, who was teaching film studies at Stanford.

John took a camera everywhere he went, trying to give people a glimpse into the workings of his mind, the fear, the insecurity, the paranoia that the disease brought on.

John Cadigan "I don't know what reality is, I can't trust my own perceptions."

The documentary, "People Say I'm Crazy", became more than just work, it also became a form of therapy for John and his family.

John Cadigan "It helped me come to terms with what was going on with me, and it helped me with the relationships in my life."

Katie Cadigan "Everytime I watched that I would learn something new about the illness. So every point in my understanding of what it's like to live with schizophrenia I would think ok, I have a handle on it. Then he'd come back with footage that would blow me out of the water, and I'd go oh, I don't have a handle on it."

By showing day to day life the documentary tries to shatter some of the myths about mental illness.

Katie Cadigan, film maker "When anyone hears the word schizophrenia, I mean you think of wild and crazy violent. The reality isn't that. It's very mundane."

In time medications helped John bring his disease under control. He became independent, getting an apartment of his own, and he was able to again focus on his art.

John and Katie hope their documentary will break through the stigma surrounding mental illness, and shine a light on a disease that has all too often been hidden in the shadows.

John Cadigan "I hope that people will see, through my personal experience, they'll get a better understanding of what mental illness is really like, and hopefully come away with it having a lot more compassion."

The documentary "People Say I'm Crazy', has been shown on Cinemax and at film festivals in the U.S. and Europe.

Copyright 2004, Used with permission from KRON-TV.

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