When Taye Diggs's sister was diagnosed with schizophrenia, the actor admits 'freezing up.' Here's what he's learned — and why he's speaking up about mental health.

A photo illustration of Taye Diggs.
Taye Diggs is speaking up about his sister's schizophrenia diagnosis in support of a new campaign. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Prince Williams/WireImage)

He's an accomplished TV star and Broadway performer, but Taye Diggs says he was at a loss for words when his younger sister Christian was diagnosed with schizophrenia, a mental health condition that affects how someone thinks, behaves and feels. It's an experience that Diggs, 53, has only recently opened up about publicly, in support of Live Your PosSCZible, a new campaign to elevate the voices of people living with schizophrenia and drive impactful conversations around their aspirations.

Christian’s schizophrenia diagnosis at age 28 came “out of left field,” the Rent and Private Practice star tells Yahoo Life. “We were relieved that we could put a name to her [withdrawn] behavior at that time, [but] none of us knew what to do with that information,” he says, admitting that the only reference point that he and his loved ones had for the illness was “certain overdramatized television shows.”

“I felt helpless as that older brother that was usually there for everything,” he admits, noting that being Christian’s big brother had always given him “a sense of pride and worth.” “But to hear this news about a loved one and to not be anywhere near her, to not know what steps to take, it was pretty unsettling.”

He adds, “I thought I had to always have the answers and be there, and when I didn't have the answers, I was paralyzed. But you can still be active and provide a non-judging ear, even if you don't have the answers.”

Thankfully, everyone in the family — including Diggs's ex-wife, actress Idina Menzel, with whom he shares teen son Walker — banded together to help. “Walker’s mother said, ‘[Christian] definitely needs to see a psychiatrist,’” recalls Diggs. “[Later on,] I was with her at my son's basketball practice, and I thanked her. I said, ‘You're the one that kind of spearheaded Christian's path to clarity, which was passed down to us.’ I let her know that she had a lot to do with where Christian is right now.”

Diggs’s late mother also pitched in by finding a psychiatrist who was a great fit for Christian, and once she got on the proper medication, she began to get back on track.

Witnessing his sister’s journey inspired Diggs to help make people aware that “no one’s life is over” when facing a schizophrenia diagnosis. “When you get news like we did, you don't have to give up hope,” he shares. “There's definitely light at the end of the tunnel.”

Diggs also feels like he learned the importance of not jumping to conclusions when it comes to a diagnosis like this. “I was a little bit ashamed that I was so quick to go toward and lean into the stereotypes and to pity [her],” he says. “I immediately went into the place [of] 'she's not going to be able to live the life that she wanted.' Growing up, she was very bubbly, very active, whip-smart. [But] I didn't immediately research it, which I should have done. None of what I thought was true.”

He also regrets “freezing up” and feeling uncomfortable discussing the subject with his sister. “I later found out that was the worst thing I could have done,” he says. “Christian told me, ‘Imagine what it's like to feel like you're not in control of your mind anymore.’ Once you hear from somebody's direct perspective, it forces you to look at the situation differently. It didn’t occur to me what she was going through. All you want is for people to listen to you, understand you, trust you, be patient and show that support. There's a sense of security that she needed the most at that moment.”

Diggs is intent on applying the lessons he learned about simply listening to everybody in his life, especially his son. He also makes a point to check in more often with loved ones. “I’m usually really awful at that,” says Diggs. “[But] what Christian is going through has brought the family closer together and reminds us how important it is to just stay in contact with each other.”

These days, the former All American star is proud of Christian's progress. “Obviously, [schizophrenia] never goes away, but she has figured out a way to make certain adjustments in her life that allow her to do whatever she wants, and I think that's pretty incredible,” says Diggs. “After this and seeing how she's dealing with her life and loving it, I see her as a very successful adult doing her thing. Now I respect her in a different way.”