Jake Lloyd, the actor behind Episode I’s Anakin Skywalker, was recently moved to a psychiatric facility after spending ten months in jail following a high-speed chase with police in South Carolina in June 2015. While the information has been out there for a while, the fact that Lloyd suffers from schizophrenia is once again in the news, perhaps in a higher profile way than it had before.
There are about a hundred things we could talk about with this. Psychiatric facilities versus jail, support for mental illness, lessening the stigma of mental illness.
Because let me tell you guys something. As someone who suffers from a mental illness herself? It sucks.
I suffer from Type 1 Bipolar Disorder, and scientists think that differences in brain structure, neurotransmitter imbalance and genetics may all be aspects that predispose someone to bipolar disorder. Schizophrenia, on the other hand, may be even more insidious. While genetics and neurotransmitter imbalances are also thought to be possible causes for schizophrenia, so is the environment in which someone lives; a supposition supported by the number of combat veterans who develop schizophrenia after their service.
I can’t imagine that an environment in which a young man is continually bullied by schoolmates, ‘friends’ and complete strangers for a movie role is one that could possibly be good for someone. And yet this is the environment Jake Lloyd has been dealing with since 1999. That’s seventeen years of being blamed for ‘ruining’ the Star Wars franchise by prequel haters, having a role constantly criticized (not critiqued), and being called every name in the book. Lloyd hasn’t acted in over ten years, and I can’t blame him for doing so.
I’ve seen a few things in scrolling through Facebook and Twitter. Quite a bit of it has been support, which has been encouraging. Quite a bit of it has also been blame being placed on Jar Jar Binks (not fair to Ahmed Best) or jokes made at Jar Jar’s expense. More has been blame being placed on George Lucas (which is where any blame–depending on your point of view–for TPM lies).
What I haven’t seen has been a condemnation of the culture that allows this kind of bullying to happen; the kind of culture that allows a child and teenager (and eventually an adult) to be anonymously attacked by thousands of people for ‘ruining’ a beloved franchise. This is the culture that harasses people via the internet, that sends rape and death threats to those who speak out, that name-call those who disagree with them.
This is a culture that, at times, has driven people to commit suicide.
And it may be a culture that has caused–or certainly worsened–Lloyd’s condition. Schizophrenia is often characterized by paranoia; in this case, people are out to get him, if not physically, then verbally.
Mental illness makes the inside of your own head a frightening place to be, which, given that you live there all the time, means you don’t get a respite from it. When you have a mental illness, the external support that you get from family and friends is invaluable, even if you aren’t able to articulate how or why. Lloyd has probably had some of that from his family. But drowning that out have been the voices of thousands of people berating and belittling him for ‘ruining’ Star Wars.
This isn’t something that we can stand for. The only way to stop bullying and to end the stigma of mental illness is to speak out. Even if you don’t feel like it makes a difference to say something, it does, because it’s external support for the bullied and the mentally ill that helps drown out the voices of those who would put you down.
Be supportive. Be loving. But most of all, be kind.