Changing minds: Glenn Close’s personal battle to destigmatize mental illness

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When it comes to CHANGING MINDS about mental illness, and ending its stigma, few people are more motivated than actress Glenn Close. She’s been talking to Tracy Smith:

Glenn Close’s character in “Fatal Attraction” is one of her most memorable roles — and is considered one of the great villains of the 20th century.

In that 1987 blockbuster, Close played Alex Forrest, a woman scorned after an affair with a married man, played by Michael Douglas.

Smith asked, “Looking back on that role now, what do you think?”

“I’m always amazed that when I was researching that role, that no one brought up the idea that she might have a mental disorder,” Close said, “or that she might have a behavior triggered by something in her past. I think if I was offered that script today, I would certainly look at it from a totally different point of view.”

That’s because today, Close knows something she didn’t back then — that mental illness runs in her own family.  Her nephew, Calen has schizophrenia; and Glenn’s sister Jessie has bipolar disorder.
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Glenn Close with her nephew, Calen, and sister, Jessie.

BRING CHANGE TO MIND
Jessie Close said she struggled with mental illness her whole life, before she was diagnosed at age 50.

Smith asked, “Why do you think it took that long?”

“It wasn’t taken seriously. I lived a very fast and wild life, so nobody suspected anything,” she replied.

“They just attributed it to – ”

“To me. That’s how I was. I’d stay up for two nights, and then I would think I need at least a few hours’ sleep on the third night. Which, of course, kicks in depression. And depression for me was beyond blackness. It was wanting to die. I had this voice in my head that would just not leave me alone.”

Saying? “‘Kill yourself. Kill yourself. Kill yourself. Kill yourself,’ over, and over, and over.”
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Jessie Close and Glenn Close.

In 2003, a frightened Jessie confided her suicidal thoughts to her sister, and they got help.

Glenn said she thought she was very close to losing her: “I never knew how close. Many people who live with bipolar disorder have deaths by suicide.”

The sisters say Jessie’s treatment was successful because Jessie wanted help.  But they also say far too many people are still suffering in silence.

Glenn said, “When I became an advocate I realized that is a family affair for one in four of us. One in four is touched in some way by mental illness. So, it became obvious to me that we have to talk about it.”

That thinking led Glenn and Jessie to start a foundation in 2010. Bring Change to Mind creates multimedia campaigns and holds events to get people to talk about mental health.

To watch a PSA by Bring Change to Mind, “How to Talk About Mental Health with Anyone,” click on the player below.

How to Talk About Mental Health with Anyone by Bring Change to Mind onYouTube

Glenn said, “To let those that might feel marginalized or silenced by stigma become part of a group and accepted will save lives. Period.”

“Do you think you’re saving lives?” Smith asked

“Yes. We have a very, very wonderfully active community on Bring Change to Mind and our whole social network. You come into a community of people that have lived with what you’re living with and understand what you’re going through.”

Bring Change to Mind also focuses on college and high school students — the age group with the highest prevalence of mental illness — and the subject of recent headlines.

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Actress Glenn Close speaks to students about her family’s personal experience with mental illness.

Smith said, “It seems like we usually hear about mental illness when it’s connected to violence, [like] the school shooting in Florida. Does that present an accurate picture?”

“No,” Glenn replied. “The biggest majority of people living with mental illness are more preyed upon than preying upon. But it does seem to be that somebody who does one of these terrible acts is suffering from some sort of mental disorder.”

The answer, she says, is more reliable funding for mental health care — and maybe a little more care for each other. “A lot of times a lot of isolation goes on, which is dangerous. Be aware of how connected we truly are, and if one connection is broken, there could be terrible repercussions. So, we can’t afford to ignore, and to think it’s somebody else’s problem anymore.”

Glenn Close and her sister Jessie say they’ll keep working until mental illness is seen as just what it is — another part of being human.

Jessie said, “I never got bunches of roses when I got home from the hospital. If I had had a heart operation, I’m sure all my friends would’ve been there with food, and flowers. People behaving strangely or badly is not considered an illness.”

“But it is,” Smith said.

“It is. Yeah, it is. It’s just an illness, for goodness sake.”

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