Hundreds send message in LOVE Park to those with mental illness

Posted: June 05, 2014

MIKE THOMPSON'S eyes well up, wet and full as puddles, as he recalls his brother, Tom.

"I would visit him occasionally and he would talk about things that didn't make sense to me," Thompson, 57, says in a video. "He struggled. And then one day I got a call."

He pauses for a moment and purses his lips: "My brother killed himself."

"I am Mike Thompson and I will listen," he says as the video fades.

The video was presented as part of the nation's first #IWillListen Day, held yesterday in LOVE Park in an effort to fight the stigma surrounding mental illness.

The event was hosted by the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services, the National Alliance on Mental Illness in New York City (NAMI), Box of Stars and the Thomas Scattergood Behavior Health Foundation.

The "I Will Listen" campaign is most notably recognized for its cathartic videos pledging support to listen to those in need of help for their mental illness. Thompson's video, according to NAMI board president Barbra Ricci, has by far been the most popular. Thompson preceded Ricci as president of the organization.

After each video plays on the campaign's website, the screen notes that one in four Americans is affected by mental illness. More than 400 pledge videos were filmed during yesterday's five-hour event.

"I think as I got involved in talking about it [his brother's suicide], a lot of emotions came out that really said, 'I could've done more, and we all gotta do more.' "

Patrick Kennedy, a former Rhode Island congressman and champion of mental-health awareness, offered advice on a course of action to a passionate crowd that still smiled brightly as the rain began to pour down over their heads.

"One way to begin the healing process [in regards to mental illness] is to make sure that people with mental illness no longer feel marginalized in our society, they are no longer isolated in our society and they are no longer discriminated against in our society simply because their illness is an illness of the brain as opposed to an illness of the body," Kennedy said.

Ricci, 49, said the decision to host #IWillListen Day in Philadelphia was easy because of support from Arthur Evans, the commissioner of Philadelphia's behavioral health department, and Joseph Pyle, president of the Scattergood Foundation, based at Friends Hospital in Crescentville.

"It was almost natural to come down here because they have the network, they feel so strongly about this cause," Ricci said. "They basically took this event and ran with it."

Thompson said the event gave him hope for the future.

"I'll tell you what's encouraging to me," he said. "There's so many leverage points in a community. There are policy makers, there are businesses, there are press. When all those people collaborate and engage, you can change the world and I think that's what we are seeing today."

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