Speaking in Omaha, Glenn Close, sister aim to erase stigma of mental illness - LivewellNebraska.com
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Speaking in Omaha, Glenn Close, sister aim to erase stigma of mental illness

''I can't stop thinking about killing myself. I need your help.”

The younger sister of actress Glenn Close told her that five or six years ago, when they were at their mother's house, Close recalled Thursday in Omaha. “That kind of jerked me awake,” the actress said.

Jessie Close was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Doctors properly diagnosed her mental illness, bipolar 1 disorder with a tendency to be both manic and depressed at the same time. She was eventually prescribed the proper medication.

Today, the sisters go around the country and talk about their family's struggles with mental illness and their efforts to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

The two came to Omaha for a fundraiser for the Community Alliance, which provides social and medical services for adults living with mental illness. The agency's offices are at 40th and Leavenworth Streets.

The sisters spoke Thursday afternoon to a crowd of about 250 people in the Community Alliance cafeteria. In the evening, they spoke at a fundraiser at the Joslyn Art Museum that drew more than 700 people.

Glenn Close founded the group Bring Change 2 Mind in 2009. The group's website, bringchange2mind.org, provides information about several mental conditions, testimonials from people dealing with them, links to Jessie Close's blog, and videos of the sisters and others discussing the effects of mental illness on their families.

By the numbers
1 in 4 adults (about 61.5 million Americans) experience mental illness in
a given year.

13.6 million people (one in 17)
live with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder. Of that total,
2.6 million people live with schizophrenia and 6.1 million people live with bipolar disorder.

60%: Percentage of adults (and almost half of youths ages 8 to 15) with a mental illness who received no mental health services in the previous year.

$193.2 billion: Amount that serious mental illness costs America in lost earnings per year.

78%: Percentage of adults with mental health symptoms who said treatment can help people with mental illness lead normal lives.

25%: Percentage of adults with mental health symptoms who said people are caring and sympathetic to people with mental illness.

Sources: National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2007 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey

The actress, a six-time Academy Award nominee and an Emmy, Tony and Golden Globe winner, said she knew her family needed to be involved in the effort “because it's a family story. Mental illness is a family affair.”

“Families have a responsibility to their mentally ill (relatives) to get over the shame and do something about it,” Jessie Close said.

Glenn Close said when she decided to start the advocacy group, she called Jessie and Jessie's grown son, Calen, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

She said she asked them, “ 'Would you be willing to “out” yourself as living with a serious mental illness in a national campaign?' Without hesitation, they both said yes.”

The actress said her group's basic message “starts with, 'Have the courage to talk about it.' And that's a lot to ask.”

Surveys have found, she said, that many people don't want those with mental illness as an in-law, a neighbor, a co-worker or a teacher of their children. And they assume that the people are going to hurt themselves.

“So that's what we have to change,” she said. “And it's not just that people can understand that you can get medication, you can have a productive life. But their behavior has to change (so) that you are included just like everyone else in our society.”

The most effective way to change people's attitudes about mental illness, Close said, citing research, is to have them meet someone living with mental illness.

Bring Change 2 Mind now wants to determine the most effective messages for raising awareness about mental illness and changing the way people treat those with mental illness, Close said.

Close couldn't leave the appearance at the Community Alliance without being asked about her film career. One audience member asked her to name her favorite movie.
“They are like my children, in a way,” she said. “They each represent a different, amazing experience.

“ 'Fatal Attraction' is way up high. I also loved being in a movie called 'Dangerous Liaisons.' That still holds up. 'The Big Chill' just had its 30th anniversary. ... I've been very lucky. I've worked with some wonderful people.”




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