BAGHDAD -- Ambassadors from the land of Hollywood visited Multinational Division - Baghdad Soldiers, here, Sept. 4.

The visit wasn't the typical, run of the mill, morale visit from actors and actresses. This time, the actors and actresses had an important message to bring.

Their message was to raise awareness of mental illness in a tour called "Stomp the Stigma."

Designed as an effort to strip away the shame and other bad connotations associated with having a disease of the mind or psyche, "No Kidding, Me Too!," a nonprofit organization, presented the program to help people better understand mental illnesses.

"'No Kidding, Me Too!' is an advocacy organization of celebrities to educate and to advocate the purpose of removing the stigma attached to mental illness and breaking down societal barriers," said Joe Pantoliano, actor and founder of the organization during his recent visit to Victory Base Complex. "We seek to empower those with mental illness, to admit their illness and to embrace their openness to seek treatment."

Pantoliano, along with fellow thespian Lisa Jay and psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Irvin, talked to Soldiers about mental illness and related their own experiences.

Soldiers were invited to provide feedback on their experiences which may have contributed to a state of mental unease for them. According to Irvin, gathering feedback is an effort to better understand and treat disorders such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

"The things that you experience, they are not military problems, they are human problems that happen to occur in the military," said Irvin to the assembled Soldiers. "When you come home, educate us. We need to hear your stories. It will help us help you and it will also help us help other people to alleviate human suffering on all planes."

Pantoliano, affectionately referred to as "Joey Pants," refers to his work as a labor of love, extending from his own battle with mental illness. "I'm sharing my experience, my mental illness - I'm mentally ill," he said. "Doing this, I'm letting go of a little of it and it helps me to regulate my day today, dealing with my personal disease."

For Jay, being able to come out and relay their message is a special treat.

"Right now, this is coming in a really timely fashion because it's been in the press so much lately at home and I think everybody at home wants to help this cause," she said. "I know the military is especially concerned; they've been willing to be very proactive and they obviously really care about their men and women, so it's an honor for us to be a part of this."

Soldiers walked away from the presentation with a little more knowledge than they had when they came in. Having stars of stage and screen come out and relay their own battles with mental illness helped convey the message that it can happen to anybody.

The ambassadors closed with a strong statement to Soldiers: don't be afraid to seek treatment because you are not alone.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16