NAMI-Boise President Alex Copple Uses Stop-Motion Animation to Teach His Daughter About Mental Illness
Story by Liza Long
On the day Alex Copple held his newborn daughter in his arms for the first time, he knew his life would change forever. “People had told me that I shouldn’t have children because of my illness,” he told me. “But when I held her, I realized that I could be a good parent, that I could give her a good life, and that I could do so much more for everyone.”
Alex has schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type. This rare genetic mental disorder can cause hallucinations, delusions, depression, mania, and disorganized thinking. With medication and therapy, the chronic condition can be managed, and people with schizoaffective disorder can live full, productive lives. But like many parents who have mental illness, Alex struggled with how to tell his daughter about his condition.
As a stay-at-home father in 2011, he was completing his last few classes for a bachelor degree at College of Idaho when he experienced an episode of depression followed by mania and psychosis. His doctor recommended several medication changes. When a chemical cocktail Alex ingested on doctor’s orders triggered a severe psychotic episode, Alex’s former girlfriend did exactly what you are supposed to do when a person with mental illness is in crisis: she called 911, hoping someone could take him to the emergency room so he could stabilize.
The police showed up instead.
Alex spent four days in jail without his medications. The prosecuting attorney tried to portray him as a danger to the community because of his illness. In fact, people with serious mental illness who are in treatment are no more likely than anyone else to be violent and are more likely than the general population to be the victims of violence.
Alex spent months trying to get his daughter back. During that period, his former girlfriend took a free 12-week education class called “Family to Family,” offered by Boise’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). The class is taught by trained family members who have experience caring for someone with serious mental illness and includes information on how to manage a crisis, advocate for your loved one, take care of yourself, and find supports and services.
Alex got involved with NAMI-Boise as well, becoming an “In Our Own Voice” speaker at local schools and providing Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training for police officers, so that they can learn how to respond effectively to people in mental health crisis. Today, he is the interim president of NAMI-Boise.
And Alex has finally found a way to tell his daughter about his illness.
“I never was afraid of telling my daughter. But as a case manager, I work with numerous clients with younger kids. They struggle with how to tell their family about how their lives are impacted. I decided to write a children’s book that would open up the conversation, helping children to understand that it’s okay and that there are others in similar situations,” he told me.
But Alex wasn’t sure how to illustrate his story. Then he remembered stop motion animation. As an 8-year old, he attended the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry’s stop motion animation program. He fell in love with the art, sculpting and filming as a coping strategy when things got tough. Now he is busy putting the finishing touches on the production with the help of his friend and fellow artist Marcus Gutierrez. The short film, entitled “Papa Loves You, Little One: Poems Sharing a Father’s Life,” will premiere at NAMI Boise’s Variety Show Spectacular, the nonprofit organization’s spring fundraiser.
Alex is thrilled to be using his experiences to help other people and give them hope. “Being with my daughter has always allowed me to function, even with the chaos in my head. She grounds me,” he said. With so much to live for, he has rebuilt his life frame by frame.
You can see Alex’s film at the NAMI Boise Variety Show Spectacular: Comedy, Music, Film, Art, and More Friday, May 8, 2015
Boise State University Special Events Center
Doors open at 5:30 p.m. (silent auction)
Program starts at 6:30 pm
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