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Actress Glenn Close: Changing Minds about Mental Illness

Emmy award-winning actress Glenn Close has launched a BringChange2Mind Campaign to fight stigma and provide people with mental illness, their family and friends with access to information and support.

Earlier this year, Close helped lead Maine's NAMI Walk, near her home. Her sister, Jessie, who lives in Montana and lives with mental illness, credits NAMI for helping their family.

"It will be a great day when I'm able to introduce the subject of my own bipolar disorder  or my son's schizophrenia  without seeing the flicker of fear behind the eyes of whoever I'm speaking to," Jesse declared in thanking NAMI..

In launching the campaign, Close and Jessie appeared on numerous television talk shows, including Good Morning America.  Close also wrote a blog entry in The Huffington Post. The campaign Web site has had over 80,000 visitors to date and its Facebook community has over 3,000 friends.

This week, Time Warner rolled out a schedule of 400 public service announcement (PSA) placements in its four biggest markets: New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Charlotte, North Carolina. The PSAs also will be rotated over time on the Comcast, F/X and Lifetime cable network.

Movie producer Ron Howard, who made the movie A Beautiful Mind, directed the PSA "film shoot" in New York's Grand Central Station—which included NAMI NYC Metro volunteers among 150 "extras." Garen and Shari Staglin of the International Mental Health Research Organization (IMHRO) have shared with supporters a terrific slideshow of the shoot.

BringChange2Mind is a non-profit organization created by Close, the Staglins, the Child & Adolescent Bipolar Foundation (CABF) and Fountain House in New York City. The campaign was born out of a partnership between Close and Fountain House, where she has volunteered out of an interest in mental illness due to the illnesses of her sister and nephew.  The campaign has received broad support from the mental health community, including NAMI, the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH) and the federal Substance Abuse & Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA).

One concern that exists is the tendency of media to begin interviews by referencing Close's role as "Alex Forrest" in the movie Fatal Attraction over 20 years ago, which associated borderline personality disorder with violence.

Close acknowledges that the movie "sent a misleading message about the reality of mental illness"—and actually opposed the film's ending in a two-week struggle with producers and screenwriters.

"Alex Forrest is considered by most people to be evil incarnate," Close has written. "People still come up to me saying how much she terrified them. Yet in my research into her behavior, I only ended up empathizing with her. She was a human being in great psychological pain who definitely needed meds. I consulted with several psychiatrists to better understand the "whys" of what she did and learned that she was far more dangerous to herself than to others."

The PSAs and Close's investment of her celebrity, time and energy in a long-term campaign—in which serves as an authentic, real-life voice—far overshadows references to the movie. References to the movie also have opened the way for greater public discussion and awareness of stigma and stereotypes and the need for education about mental illness.

Understanding of mental illness evolves over time. Even for Emmy award-winning actresses, whether as an individual with the illness or as a family member, it is a journey that often begins in pain—before becoming a voice for change.

Additional anti-stigma resources

NAMI StigmaBusters


SAMHSA Voice Awards