June 22, 2021

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Oscar nominee Glenn Close is on a mission to end the stigma surrounding mental illness

Oscar nominee Glenn Close is on a mission to end the stigma surrounding mental illness

But in real life, the Oscar nominee and Tony, Emmy and Golden Globe winner is busy putting the spotlight on mental health awareness.

And for Close, it’s personal.

“Most families have to deal with some aspect of mental health,” Close told CNN. “When my sister Jess came to me and said, ‘I need help because I can’t stop thinking about killing myself’, it was like a bolt from the blue.”

At the age of 50, after years of struggling, her sister Jessie was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Jessie’s son Calen Pick was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in 2001.

“When you look back, I saw evidence of Jessie’s mental distress when she was very young,” said Close. “She rubbed her fingers … when she was anxious, until she was rough, sometimes she bled. And now, that would be a big red flag.”

Close said growing up his family “didn’t have a vocabulary for it” and didn’t mention it. As he began to learn more about the painful Stigma and discrimination that often surround mental illness, Close has decided to fight to end that stigma.

In 2009, with her sister Jessie and nephew Calen, she founded Bring Change to Mind, a non-profit organization that advocates for mental health awareness and support in schools and communities.

With the aim of promoting understanding and empathy, the group creates multimedia campaigns and develops programs for young people to encourage a diverse cultural conversation about mental health.

“It’s a chronic disease,” Close said. “It’s not who you are. It’s something, because we have this amazing, wonderful, fragile brain, it’s part of being a human being.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, every year in the United States one in five adults suffer from mental illness and one in six children between the ages of 6 and 17 suffers from a mental health disorder.

Bring Change to Mind has created high school clubs across the country where students are empowered to talk about emotional and social issues and mental health issues. Clubs provide a stigma-free space where young people can talk about what they are up to and offer each other support.

“Especially now,” Close said of the Covid-19 pandemic, “because our collective mental health is under such stress … it should be something that really connects us, this need to take care of our brains. It makes us human.”

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the pandemic has also been linked to mental health problems.

Symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased significantly in the United States from April to June 2020, compared to the same period in 2019, the CDC said.

During the pandemic, Bring Change to Mind continued its mission and work, holding national club meetings on Zoom to continue the dialogue. Close said he attended several of them.

“Kids, they’re great. They talk so openly. It really fosters a sense of community, even if the kids talk to each other from all over the country.”

This Sunday, as nominated for Best Supporting Actress, Close will once again be at the forefront and center stage. But for her, more important than recognition by her peers is the recognition of mental health as a crisis and the struggle to end the stigma that is often associated with mental illness.

“I remember when I was little, ‘cancer’ was the terrible word. If you had cancer you had the big stigma right there on your forehead,” Close said. “Now I think mental health needs the same normalization. We need to talk about our mental health as easily as we talk about our physical health. And we need to get funding at all levels.”

If you need to speak, contact Crisis Text Line by texting BC2M at 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

To find out more, go to the Bring Change to Mind website on bringchange2mind.org.