Nearly 15 years ago, Lisa Nicole Carson, hit Hollywood over the head by landing supporting roles on the hottest, long-running shows on TV — as Carla Simmons in NBC’s “ER” (1994) and as Renee Raddick in Fox’s “Ally McBeal” (1997).
Her Emmy nominations and win led her to the big screen with heartthrobs Denzel Washington in “Devil in the Blue Dress;” Samuel L. Jackson in “Eve’s Bayou;” Tupac in “Poetic Justice;” Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence in “Life;” Larenz Tate in “Love Jones;” and Anthony ‘Treach’ Criss and Allen Payne in “Jason’s Lyric.”
When Carson suffered a mental break at a high point in her career, it became national news. She was already on everyone’s radar as the “It Girl” who could breathe fresh air into a character and her unexplained behavior created a media frenzy of speculation and judgment.
“Fortunately social media was not on the level it is now because the aftermath from the media at that time was jarring and hurtful,” Carson said.
After 91 episodes, Carson’s contract was not renewed for “Ally McBeal.”
The interesting thing was in the NBC and Fox series, the subject of bipolar disorder was intertwined with other characters in the storyline.
The cultural stigma of mental illness runs deep in society.
In 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives announced July as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, and there is no better time to continue her legacy by advocating, educating and enlightening people about this chronic disease.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization, is dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. NAMI strives to remove the stigma around a chronic illness prevalent in the African-American community but often ignored and untreated.
NAMI reports that approximately 43.8 million people in the U.S. experience mental illness and 10 million people in the U.S. experience a serious mental illness that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.
NAMI cites 10 common warning signs of a mental health condition:
1. Feeling very sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks.
2. Seriously trying to harm or kill oneself or making plans to do so.
3. Severe out-of-control, risk-taking behaviors that can cause harm to self or others.
4. Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason, sometimes with a racing heart, physical discomfort or fast breathing.
5. Not eating, throwing up or using laxatives to lose weight; significant weight loss or weight gain.
6. Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships.
7. Repeated use of drugs or alcohol.
8. Drastic changes in behavior, personality or sleeping habits.
9. Extreme difficulty in concentrating or staying still that puts a person in physical danger.
10. Intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities.
With Centric’s “Being” production crew rolling the cameras, I sat down with the award-winning actress for a one-on-one interview about her journey. Our conversation was about the highs of the business and the lows brought on by mental illness, unbeknownst to Carson and everyone around her.
Dr. Keisha Downey, a licensed marriage & family psychotherapist and a resident counselor on the series “Couples Therapy,” has years of experience helping individuals struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, other issues, provides a snapshot about bipolar disorder.
What it’s like for someone who suffers from the bi-polar disorder to experience an episode?
“Bipolar Disorder can be best described as a prolonged disturbance in a person’s emotional state. In layman’s terms, it is a dramatic change in mood that other people will notice. When a person experiences an episode, especially for the first time, it can be scary and unfamiliar. Often people have expressed not feeling in control of their actions and behaviors. They want to feel normal but are not sure what to do.”
Does the Bipolar Disorder, in some way, create sort of a savant with an exceptional talent or ability in other areas?
“Yes it does. Particularly for someone like Lisa, she is considered a savant in the entertainment industry. Based on Lisa’s career, she has shown the world through movies and television her knowledge and expertise as an actress. To overcome and properly cope with being diagnosed with a mental illness, further demonstrates her drive and determination and how fully functioning she is and can be despite the challenges that may arise with being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.
Is there is a stigma placed on celebrities and public figures that suffer from mental health illness and does that cause a negative effect on employment?
“Yes, there is definitely a stigma attached to celebrities, as well as people in general, who suffer from any mental health disorder. People do not want to be perceived as weak or labeled as having a mental illness due to feeling as though others will not want to work with them or will feel uncomfortable around them. However, because celebrities are advocating and speaking out about having a mental illness more than in the past, this has helped to create a sense of normalcy. That it can be OK as long as a person gets the proper help needed from mental health resources that are readily available.”
The good news is that the perception about mental health is changing, largely because of NAMI’s stigmafree campaign. Companies are encouraged to take the pledge for a stigma-free culture and value its employees’ overall health, including emotional well-being and physical health. Fostering a stigma-free work environment creates the foundation for a culture of openness, acceptance, understanding and compassion.
NAMI is challenging companies all across America to step up and to do their part — to take steps to learn about mental health, to see the person not the condition and to take action to help eliminate stigma and barriers to understanding. Ironically, the network that did not renew Carson’s contract, a charitable branch of Fox announced a two-year partnership with NAMI to be stigma-free.
Unfortunately, at that time, the stigma in Hollywood was too strong to shake. Carson’s diagnosis caused her much pain and she chose to withdraw from the entertainment scene to face her illness and take control of her life. When the media storm in Hollywood had quieted to a low rumble, Carson was able to find solace in New York, her hometown, and connect on a deeper level with her mom, who passed away a few years ago.
Carson’s ray of light and turning point was meeting a young man who would help her face, embrace and cope with her illness. She was introduced to life coach, author and speaker Pervis Taylor III.
“I helped Lisa finally face the giant that was holding her hostage for all these years,” Taylor said. “I helped her realize the power of her narrative and in sharing her story that others would benefit from it.”
Taylor, the author of the international-selling book, “Pervis Principles Volume One,” walked Lisa through the process of dealing with the years of emotional baggage.
Taylor’s tips for dealing with trauma:
• Acknowledge that there is trauma.
• Find a mental health professional who has a proven history with trauma and one who has respect for the inter subjective space.
• Acknowledge and process your emotions. Know that our emotions are not evidence of the truth. However, they must be dealt with and processed.
• Find a healthy coping mechanism to help you deal, i.e., cooking, exercising, journaling.
• Prayer or meditation. Research shows the power of healing from traumatic events with significant improvement rates through prayer and meditation.
After seeing many medical professionals, Carson found the right medication and care to control her condition. Medication is an essential part of her daily routine, as well as balancing the uncertainties of life.
Sharing personal stories about medical challenges is courageous and should be applauded because it helps others to know they are not alone. If it wasn’t for the brave steps that Moore Campbell took more than eight years ago to give mental illness a voice and a face, the mental health awareness campaign may not have been established to acknowledge and support those in pain and alone.
“Once my loved ones accepted the diagnosis, healing began for the entire family, but it took too long,” said Moore Campbell, co-founder of NAMI Urban Los Angeles. “It took years. Can’t we, as a nation, begin to speed up that process? We need a national campaign to destigmatize mental illness, especially one targeted toward African-Americans. … It’s not shameful to have a mental illness. Get treatment. Recovery is possible.”
Moore Campbell lost her fight with cancer in 2006.
Carson’s openness about her challenges has taken her to a re-birth in a career she was destined to do — acting, singing, and entertaining.
Being Lisa Nicole Carson is standing tall and proud in her truth, unselfishly sharing her journey to help others, and returning victoriously to the Hollywood scene, beginning with a principle role in the highly anticipated mini-series, “New Edition” biopic directed by Chris Robinson and scheduled for release on BET in 2017.
Watch the full interview as part of the Centric’s documentary series “Being,” produced by Rob Ford, which will air Aug. 6. Check your local listing for the time and channel.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness – http://www.nami.org/ – NAMI HELPLINE 800-950-NAMI
The Stepping Up Initiative – https://stepuptogether.org/
The American Psychiatric Association Foundation – http://www.americanpsychiatricfoundation.org/
FOX Sports – http://www.foxsports.com
Dr. Keisha Downey – www.drkeishadowney.com
Pervis Taylor – www.pervistaylor.com/author or for life coaching, contact him at email@example.com
Marie Y. Lemelle, MBA, a public relations consultant, is the owner of Platinum Star PR and can be reached on Twitter @PlatinumStar or Instagram @PlatinumStarPR. Send “Health Matters” related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and look for her column in The Wave.