Glenn Close and her bipolar sister want to break the stigma of mental illness


Actress Glenn Close is speaking out about mental illness on behalf of her nonprofit organization, BringChange2Mind, which aims to decrease the social stigma associated with mental illness. Glenn’s sister Jessie has bipolar disorder but wasn’t diagnosed until she was 27, and Jessie’s son Calen has schizo-affective disorder. While Glenn is famous for having played some crazy characters, she says she never recognized the mental illness in her own family because they didn’t really have the vocabulary to even talk about it.

For more than 25 years, actress Glenn Close has wowed audiences with memorable performances. But her latest role in a public service announcement addressing the stigma of mental illness hits particularly close to home.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about one in four adults in the United States have a diagnosable mental disorder. Close is speaking out for the first time on television about the legacy of mental illness in her own family. Her sister, Jessie Close, has bipolar disorder, and Jessie’s son Calen Pick, 28, has schizo-affective disorder.

“Mental illness is just part of the human condition,” the actress said today on “Good Morning America,” adding that her family hopes that the sisters’ campaign will help foster a dialogue about a condition that we should “talk about as openly as cancer or diabetes.”

Glenn Close, an Emmy, Golden Globe and Tony award winner and Oscar nominee currently starring in the series “Damages,” is also the creator of a nonprofit organization called BringChange2Mind, which she founded to raise awareness about mental illness and to provide support and information to the mentally ill and their families.

[From ABC News]

The interview with George Stephanopoulos is really interesting, and you can watch it in its entirety on ABC’s website. It’s so touching to watch Glenn interact with Jessie and see the compassion and empathy she has for her sister, instead of the judgment and ridicule people with mental illness often face. They also show the PSA, which has Glenn and Jessie wearing shirts that say “Sister” and “Bipolar” in the middle of Grand Central Station, along with other people and their family members wearing shirts that say the name of their illness. It helps us see their humanity, and remind us that they’re regular people deserving of respect, just like everyone else.

Stephanopoulos also talks a bit about the link between bipolar disorder (and mental illness in general) and creativity. Jessie, who’s a writer, admitted she was worried that she wouldn’t be able to work and would lose that part of herself, and her son felt the same. But she said she’s working better than ever now, and they showed an amazing self-portrait that Calen had recently completed.

It’s wonderful that Glenn and Jessie have joined forces on this, and hopefully they’ll bring some much needed attention to the truly important issues affecting not just those with mental illness but their families as well.

Here’s Glenn at the Emmys on September 20th. Images thanks to .

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32 Responses to “Glenn Close and her bipolar sister want to break the stigma of mental illness”

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  1. rzrlvr says:

    I think people are afraid of mental illness because it’s so much more frightening when you can’t look at a blood test or xray and say, okay, this is what’s wrong. You never know when people are going to snap, or when a user is using it as an excuse for medication or attention. People will always be frightened to admit a disorder because to admit it, means they’ll get treated differently. I applaud Glenn Close for her idealism, and strength in bringing more attention to mental illness, but I think it will be a long time before it’s accepted openly as an illness.

  2. Sumodo says:

    Good for Glenn Close and her sister. It’s too bad Glenn will forever be in the collective consciousness as “the bunny boiler.” Any of us snarky chat room denizens who have called a mentally ill woman a “bunny boiler” should hang our heads in shame. So, now that THAT’s over, who’s up for slamming Tom Cruise?

  3. rzrlvr says:


    Me! Me! LOL
    Now remember, being a highly ranked member in a cult is not the same as having a mental illness.

  4. moo says:

    I remember when people were encouraged to be “different” and beat your own drum, etc. Now, it would appear you’d be labeled to easily in one of the hundred “mental illness” categories. So much for being yourself.

  5. moo says:

    and, yes! let’s bash TOM!!! 😀

  6. Sakota says:

    I really really wish that people who accuse eccentrics of being psychotics never have to really experience what psychotics are capable of doing to people.

    Now, too many kids or adults who have offbeat personalities are labeled weirdo maniacs while real psychotics like say, Bundy are able to disguise themselves because they are perfectly socially adept.

  7. barneslr says:

    Moo & Sakota, I think you are confused. There is a HUGE difference between being an eccentric/offbeat person and having a mental illness. Mental illness is not fun. It’s not being clever and creative and kooky and original. It’s more often manifested by being confused, out of control, frightened and generally anxious and miserable.

    It’s people like you two, actually, who stigmatize the mentally ill with your attitude. I can assure you that the patients in the mental hospital where I work aren’t here because they are “offbeat” and “eccentric.” They are here because they have an illness and need help.

  8. jule says:

    I welcome any dialogue about mental illness. My dad is bipolar and my brother is schizo. Yup….scary when they stop taking their meds! Any hoodle, TOMMY BOY SUX

  9. destiny says:

    i really wish people wouldnt stigmatize those of us who are mentally ill, even with just having depression like me….it just makes it soooo much harder to deal with it. if people could just be open and not tryna act so damn perfect all the time, we would get to the root of the problem and fix it instead of tryna hide it…

  10. Kathie says:

    The bi-polar person I knew self medicated with alcohol and meth as they so often do to try to quiet their demons, she wound up dead. I wish she could have gotten help. We cannot stop people from having mental illnesses but it would be a better world if we tried just a bit to understand and allow for some compassion. On an up note there are still lots of idiots and famewhores out there with nothing clinically wrong with them!

  11. Shannon says:

    rzrlvr, I am not afraid to openly discuss my mental illnesses with people, online or in person. I’ll admit that sometimes people are shocked by how candid I am about it, and that is what makes me feel uncomfortable.

    I have problems with depression and generalized anxiety disorder. I have been suicidal in the past. I share my story in the hope that anyone else who feels like they’ve hit rock bottom will see that I’m ok, and that they should get help instead of contemplating suicide.

    My experiences with mental illness have made me a much more compassionate person, because I know how it feels to be so hopeless and unhappy that you feel like there’s nothing to live for.

    My mental illnesses are not just an eccentric part of my personality. They are the result a chemical imbalance in my brain that requires medication to correct.

  12. RobN says:

    While I applaud them for going public and encouraging awareness, it bugs me when an organization vastly exagerates numbers to bring attention to a problem. I don’t for a moment question that a lot of people have mental illnesses; I do question whether one quarter of the adult population has a diagnosable mental illness. I think it’s meant to encourage acceptance but it just makes me question their veracity.

  13. Sigh. says:

    My half-sis is bipolar with hints of OCD and germaphobia (not an unusual grouping).

    I think a “true” number is almost impossible to have. The very definition of “mental illness” alone varies from doctor to doctor, even with standardized manuals and testing.

    Hopefully this type of attention will at least stop well-read novices from making statements like they’re highly-educated and practiced experts.

    As fas as celebs go – some are ill, some are eccentric, and some are just your garden variety self-absorbed assholes — and I don’t believe NARCISSISM is a recognized psych illness.

  14. Sumodo says:

    And God forbid Tom having any siblings with bipolar disorder who need meds. He’d order a NIACIN bombardment and solitary confinement. That’s what caused a Sci member in Clearwater to commit suicide by jumping out a window. She died and her parents successfully sued for an unspecified amount. Now, let’s all take our meds and be grateful we aren’t Xenu heads.

  15. crash2GO2 says:

    I really question that 1/4 number. What is one person’s mental illness is another person eccentricity.

    I, however, am not eccentric, I have a mental illness. I struggled along only partially diagnosed for 44 years. I cringe inwardly when people who don’t know my diagnosis, start going on about some friend of a friend’s antics (with my diagnosis) and I can tell I’m supposed to be open mouthed with disbelief at what this person has put everyone through, and how wacked out and selfish they are. Meanwhile I’m squirming in my seat feeling like an imposter. Fortunately I’m a mild case – other members of my extended family have not been so lucky.

    Anyhoodle (as Kaiser would say)… perhaps I might be a tiny bit eccentric as well. 😛

  16. TwinkleToes says:

    @ Sigh. Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or any personality disorder is considered an actual psychiatric illness and is labeled so in The Merck Manual. They explain it in the opening of the chapter but I understand what you mean b/c there really isn’t any medication for them and they are usually life long afflictions with the exception of Borderline Personality Disorder. defines the disorders beautifully.

  17. TwinkleToes says:

    @sumodo. Thank you for the laughs all over these boards, especially the Kate Gosselin Halloween wigs selling out. I laughed and laughed.

    P.S. Tom Cruise probably has bi-polar but mostly manic pole, along with balloon boy’s dad, Richard Heene. See how it can ruin lives and careers?

  18. Nicole says:

    I’m happy to see at least one celeb campaigning for mental illness. There are MANY worthy causes that need attention, but mental illness, sadly, is often overlooked. I applaud Glenn for her efforts!

    I’ve been on disability for 5 years due to mental illness. If somebody asks what I do for a living, 99% of the time, I hesitate to tell them that I’m on disability. The first thing they do is look at my legs, as if I should be in a wheelchair or have some physical deformity to qualify for social assistance. =/

    But alas, we can dream of a day when everybody is treated as an equal. Regardless of money, skin color, sexual orientation, religion, mental state, and everything else that makes us different.

  19. Sakota says:

    “Moo & Sakota, I think you are confused. There is a HUGE difference between being an eccentric/offbeat person and having a mental illness. Mental illness is not fun. It’s not being clever and creative and kooky and original. It’s more often manifested by being confused, out of control, frightened and generally anxious and miserable.”

    I must have put it wrongly. I’ve spent my life overanalyzed and have had every single quirk diagnosed as a sign of mental illness. I’ve also had a bad experience at the hands of a psychotic woman. It’s no picnic and I’m speaking from experience that education is vital since so many people judge harmless eccentrics as psychos and nutheads as just fine because they (The pyschotic) is perfectly socially adept.

  20. Gia says:

    I applaud Glenn Close and look up to her now as a great caring human being whereas, before, I thought of her as a great actress.

    It’s up to each individual, celebrity or no, to have their doctor diagnose them correctly and, then HOPE one doesn’t have a “diagnosable” mental illness… but if they do…to HOPE one has a caring doctor who will stay on top of things with you…available at all times..because it is an absolute MUST. Mental illness has always been “swept under the rug”. Only now are people at least starting to look at it as an illness that is no different than cancer or diabetes…it requires medicine for the chemical balances causing it and a lot of support and prayer that it works. Insurances are the particular culprits in their lack of cooperation and lack of belief that it is a true illness that merits as much medical care as any other physical illness.

    My daughter was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 5 years ago. Only in the last year was her doctor able to get things under’s very difficult to do in many cases, but those first 4 years were hell on earth for her…with my and my husband’s hearts breaking and worry eating us up.

    In our struggles, we have gone to support groups and seen heart breaking stories (bipolar, depression, schizophrenia, OCD, anorexia, etc.) that I never would have been aware of had I not become involved in the world of the mentally ill. I think so differently now when I see a poor strangely looking person walking down the street.

    My daughter is still afraid to let people be aware of her condition and dreads meeting people who ask “what do you do for a living?” That’s sad. Also, she is still not quite ready for the working world, but we keep hoping. We pray that her meds continue to work and don’t “wear out” on her…throwing her back into hell. We just want her to be able to “have a life”.

    I don’t think that people should talk about who really is sick and who is not. NO ONE knows unless you’ve been there…celebrity or no. Each person and their family must deal with their own hell and hope to climb out of it.

    Glenn Close…I salute you and your sister and would hug you if I were able to meet you. I wish you, your sister and your nephew the best of luck.

  21. barneslr says:

    Gia, hugs to you and your family. You’ve been down such a difficult path but I am so glad that you have found a doctor that has been able to help your daughter. I will keep your family in my prayers.

  22. jule says:

    another issue I want to bring up is post partem depression, I lost a friend to that this summer. She came from a family that believe mental illness is shameful…and now look. I am generally open discussing these things with people, considering my family history…

  23. michelle says:

    Thank God for Glenn Close and brave people like her. If more celebrities used their voices for things like this it would give a lot of struggling individuals/families more hope.

    Watching the lives of my aunt and grandmother deteriorate before my eyes as a kid was horrible. The effect that mental illness had on them was very similar, if not worse, than things like diabetes and cancer, so I think it should be recognized just as much. I, too, have struggled a lot. At only 21 I have quit college twice, switched jobs four times just in the last two months, and I haven’t talked to my family in over a year due to mental illness. So when people like Glenn Close embrace mental illness and recognize it’s true struggles, it gives people like me something to hold on to.. a little hope that there just might be a solution on the way.

    They say people are afraid of the unkown… so inform the people and get rid of the fear,and the stigma…. so that future aunts and grandmothers and brothers and cousins and friends and neighbors don’t go unnoticed because they are ashamed of what they cannot control…

    Anyone reading this who is suffering, please hold on and try to get help, there are people who care about what you are going through… be part of the change..

  24. Gia says:

    Barneslr…thank you for your thoughts and offer of prayers.

    Michelle, stick with it. If at all possible, try to make your family understand and ask their help… or friends can be a lot of help. Don’t ever give up. My daughter almost did, several times. If you keep at it… find the right psychiatrist and therapist(if you have to go through it), and take ALL MEDS that you are given to take religiously, you can have a better life.

    My daughter, too, went throught the whole routine…different jobs… start something, then stop it, struggle to get through college, even though she’s intelligent..the whole thing that you have been going through.

    Also…find support groups in your area. They really can be a big help.

    Do whatever it takes…I mean it!!!!


  25. michelle says:

    Thank you Gia 🙂 sometimes that is all someone needs is a little support, and to be able to relate to another person makes you feel less alone…

    I feel for you daughter, and I wish her the very very best… and I also admire the support that you give her. I can tell that you are a caring and non-judgemental person and there should be more people like you.

    Thank you 🙂

  26. Marilyn Komisar says:

    I grew up in the 1960’s with a parent who was bi-polar in those years called manic-depression. I did not find out that my parent had this illness until I was in my 20’s. I thought that my parent was happy(turned out to really be manic) 6 months of the year and depressed 6 months of the year (which I thought was just a lack of motivation…and always felt that I Never wanted to be like that. It turned out that my parent suffered from manic-depression. In those years families felt it was something to be ashamed (even my own parent) and therefore never to be talked about. My parent was so ashmed of themself that I too became ashamed of them.In those years there were few medications and electric shock therapy was the main treatment. My parent was so ashamed of having had this treatment, as well as so petrified that they would ever need it again, that that added to the stigma. Wow, is all I can say that bi-polar disorder has come out of the closet. Bravo, to Glen Close for taking a disease, like any other disease, and saying there is nothing to be ashamed about having it.

  27. Stephanie says:

    Thank you Glenn close for shedding light on mental illness that others just don’t “get”.

    I am bipolar and know what your sister must be going through. I would rather have almost ANY physical illness than to have this curse!!!

    I too, know of the stigma that goes along with these conditions.

    When people hear I am bipolar, I notice an automatic change in how they look at me and act toward me, like they are scared of me.

    It’s people like Tom Cruise and millions of others, that have NO idea what they are talking about with their “just snap out of it attitudes”! Especially Tom’s comments about post-partam depression. I wouldn’t dare act that way with anyone who has any other type of illness I don’t have. You just don’t know until you have walked a mile in someone elses shoes! And Tom: when was the last time YOU had post partum depression? I rest my case!

    Keep up the good work Ms. Close. We are really watching you in a positive light now!!!!!

  28. alesley says:

    i love how people on here are diagnosing people that they don’t know based loosely on what they “think” they know about mental illness. i wasn’t aware that anyone who replied was a doctor..and if you are plz next time say so because it is stupid and presumptuous to lump weirdo’s like tom cruise in with people who are actually suffering from a horrible disease for which there is no cure. I am 24 and I have Bipolar Disorder. I have the emotional stability of a roller coaster when i am with out my medication and as of now i haven’t been a danger to others..just myself. and i would like to keep it that way.

    tom cruise is just some weirdo who has his own beliefs. granted they may be dangerous to others who need medication to stay alive..but to those people who don’t need them..go for it i don’t care..

  29. Pat Fleming says:

    I was so impressed when I saw the commercial with Glenn Close speaking out about mental illness. I’ve worked as a psychiatric social worker for over 30 years now and I’ve constantly said the mentally ill still have no lobby to speak out for them. I know people still believe that somehow it’s the person’s fault if they suffer from a mental illness and somehow they themselves are immune. WRONG I have met some wonderful people in my years and believe me neither their families nor they have done anything to deserve the illness. More people need to care and become involved so that the stigma connected to mental illness can be conquered. I was lucky because when I was 16 a friend of mine in High School talked me into going to the local psychiatric hospital as a candy striper. I did and I found my calling. I’m still there today! I believe we need to start at the High School level exposing teens to different kinds of people and educating them and maybe more kids would discover their calling like me.I wish more celeberties and politicians would become involved in this fight!

  30. I’m not so sure about the whole social stigma thing & I also think the whole mental disorder thing had been taken way too far by doctors in order to make some money. I’d bet money that 9 out of 10 people would be diagnosed with some kind of disorder if they actually went to see a psychologist. Not that there aren’t people that are actually suffering, but there are far more exaggerated & situational cases.

  31. Bipolared says:

    I applaud Glenn Close for speaking so openly and candidly about mental illness. I’ve had quite a ride, from the time I fell off the cliff to clawing my way back to humanity. It’s a difficult life – one that is demanding and challenging just for the sake of stability. Every day is one step forward.

    Maybe with her and more others, more attention can be dedicated to helping people with bipolar disorder. It’s been such an ugly secret that needs to be discussed..

  32. tramadol says:

    Hi just thought we would explain something.. This really is twice now i’ve landed in your blog in the last 30 days trying to find totally unrelated things. Spooky or what?