Sean Astin talks ending mental health stigma at Penn State Harrisburg


MIDDLETOWN, Pa. (WHTM) – Sean Astin is one of those rare celebrities that has at least one iconic role in every generation.

He knows he can reach a lot of people, so he isn’t sitting idly. He’s taking what he learned with two famous parents — specifically one with a mental illness — and using it to help others.

“Can the guy from Encino Man talk about mental health,” he asked. 

It turns out he can — and well. Growing up as a child star with a famous mother, Patty Duke, the spotlight never seemed to dim, shining on all parts of his life.

“I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t know my mother had a mental health condition,” Astin said.

Duke was diagnosed as bipolar in the ’80s, and she really leaned into her illness, believing it gave her a second shot at her reputation. She became an advocate long before anyone was talking about mental health, but that didn’t always make it easy for Astin and his siblings.

“You’re like, ‘oh, here’s somebody who is putting herself out there as this expert,’ and yet, you should have seen what happened when she ordered food the other day and she didn’t get what she wanted — it didn’t turn out so good,” Astin said.  

Duke died in 2016, but Astin keeps her memory alive by empowering others to talk about their own struggles in an effort to end the stigma.

“People are very capable. Just because someone has a mental health diagnosis, it doesn’t mean they’re not capable of all kinds of achievements,” Astin said.

Astin has achieved a lot himself, but he’ll always want to do more for people.

Although, he knows that sometimes, it’s the small parts that end up being the most meaningful. 

“The trick in this game is realizing — it’s like a trillion personal interactions that’s what’s gonna make the difference,” Astin said.

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