January 30th, 2014
09:53 PM ET

Glenn Close on family's struggle with mental disorders: We had no vocabulary for mental illness

"I think our family is like a lot of families. We had no vocabulary for mental illness," Glenn Close says.

Joined by her younger sister, Jessie Close, the six-time Oscar-nominated actress spoke to CNN's Erin Burnett about her family's struggle with mental illness.

Close recalls, "Jessie would do things when she was little that would have been red flags if we had been more knowledgeable."

One of the red flags includes her sister rubbing her fingers together until they would begin to bleed.

Close expresses regret that her family didn't question her sister's behavior.

"We just thought she was wild and irresponsible," Close says. "So when she was finally diagnosed, which was not until she was 50, she had lived a life, which she needn't had lived."

Jessie was diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder, also known as manic-depressive disorder. According to WebMD, a person affected by the disorder will experience a manic episode, a period of abnormally elevated mood, accompanied by abnormal behavior.

Jessie shared with Burnett how she felt when she found out about the diagnosis.

"When I was finally diagnosed, I went through a long period of grief, because I had so many instances where I was manic and not in my right mind," she says. "It's a difficult thing to look back on a life when you're already 50 years old."

Close is one of the biggest advocates for changing the stigma around mental illness. She started the non-profit, Bring Change 2 Mind, with a mission to raise awareness about the misconceptions associated with mental disorders.

"Four of five of us are touched in some way by mental illness," Close says.

In December, Close was in Washington to work with a bipartisan group on the Excellence in Mental Health Act. She tells Burnett the law will get government funding for behavioral and mental health organizations that are already working on the ground in communities.

"Mental health has always been the least funded of all the departments in our government," Close says. "There's been such a cutback on funds for organizations like that - we are suffering from it."

In a public service announcement, Close stands by Jessie's son Calen (he suffers from schizophrenia), and urges people to start talking about mental illness as a way to end the stigma.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zn6yw2KUIwc?rel=0&w=560&h=315%5D

"I think we're probably tighter because we've been through a war, a war on mental illness," Jessie says.

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Filed under: "Kids in Crisis: Fragile Minds" • Mental Health • News
soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Brian

    I've been a mental health consumer for fifteen years, and for the last two years I worked as a CPS (or psychiatric tech) at a mental health treatment facility. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results, how does one rationalize a system which mirrors this insanity? Recently I resigned from my position because I felt the policies and procedures which were put in place contributed more to dysfunction than facilitating any kind of meaningful recovery. In the end, I felt like I had to be a CIA operative simply to give any of my fellow consumers a straight answer. I'm not angry or bitter, but I do feel a bit shell-shocked. I've decided to concentrate on advocacy through NAMI. I feel the system needs more work than the consumers.

    November 4, 2014 at 1:22 pm | Reply
  2. KRIS

    Thank you so much for your courage and honesty. It is so incredibly helpful for you so speak out. I wish you and your family all the best, especially your sister and her son. These are hard illnesses to deal with, but families coming together and understanding what is happen can truly bring a lost person back.

    October 28, 2014 at 9:36 am | Reply
  3. Scott M.

    Ms. Close & family, thank you for taking such a proactive roll in bringing mental illness to the forefront. I too am rapid cycling bipolar/OCD & have struggled for 15 years with these conditions and battling insurance companies for medications & treatment. If not for understanding parents & a wife thst loves & supports me in my quest to blend better into society, I would be a statistic. I have gone through many jobs over the past 15 years and currently I am a stay at home parent with assistance. I have been denied SSI, but I am on appeal to try and contribute to my mounting medical bills. The Bring Change To Mind.org group is doing great work, but we all need to do more. It takes at least a generation to change a stigma like this, especially one that large insurance companies have fought for years to create. Please keep up the good work & I will keep doing my part to help. Thank you!

    September 18, 2014 at 5:19 pm | Reply
    • KRIS

      I am so sorry to hear how difficult things have been for you. It is hard enough to live with an illness, but to have medical bills denied is very unfair. As for Social Security, did you ever do your claim through an attorney? Most people who apply on their own are denied, but that does not mean an experienced attorney can't reapply and get you the benefits you really need. If you need any help, please feel free to contact me. Stay well and know that others care.

      October 28, 2014 at 9:43 am | Reply
  4. teri bowman

    I am sooo inspired by this story and the courage of these family members. I am currently involved with an organization for helping families with mental illness. However it is a non-profit organization and requires much needed financial support. Can you please help me find resources/sponsores for my community. I am located in Wisconsin. Thank you for your time.

    June 26, 2014 at 9:07 pm | Reply
  5. Sharon Belben

    Thank God for celebrities who speak out and give hope to the rest of us. My daughter has struggled for much of her 37 years with depression and anxiety. She has a good job with Disney Animation, but it is threatened by her illness. This monumental struggle is not actively supported by my family or my daughters' friends – many back away. But Glenn Close is a wonderful humanitarian for putting herself out there because we all know her, and we are strengthened by her resolve. Glenn, you are a good example. Thank You Dear Lady! oxoxo

    May 16, 2014 at 9:57 pm | Reply
  6. Johne833

    Its really a great and useful piece of information. Im glad that you shared this useful info with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thanks for sharing. bfaekkeeaegd

    May 2, 2014 at 2:03 pm | Reply
  7. Steve

    A good initiative. Hope this brings solution to many mental health problems.

    April 2, 2014 at 1:22 pm | Reply
  8. Maureen McCormick

    I suffer from bi-polar disorder and grew up with a father who was bi-polar.
    We had to deal with the stigma back when my father wasn't well and we we're
    living in a small community of which any form of mental illness was not understood.

    For the last 9 months I have been in and out of the hospital dealing with
    my bipolar disorder. Finally, I was discharged a week ago, stopped by
    my work place to give my boss an update. What I received from him
    was not an element of support but humiliation. He stated in front of a colleague
    and client that I was stable but crazy. This is 2014 and I felt drawn back in
    time by the sheer lack of understanding about my condition. There is plenty
    of education out there about mental illness. Stigmas on mental illness have to stop.
    I have said this countless times to people I have encountered who suffer from a form
    of mental illness. It takes courage to admit you have a problem and seek help!
    Thank you Glenn Close for being an advocate for people who suffer from mental illness!

    April 1, 2014 at 9:38 pm | Reply
  9. Betsy

    Enjoyed the article but not the T-shirts. I would prefer to think of you not as bipolar, but as a person with bipolar disorder.

    February 1, 2014 at 9:16 pm | Reply
  10. Charles Nelson

    There is an article on Psychology Today called "Are You Fighting Stigma Or Causing It?" I wonder if it applies to this article. While talking about changing the stigma by getting others to accept how ill bipolar people are, this article does not hold up any examples of what outcomes are possible. That only reinforces the internal stigma bipolar people have that they are too sick to try to achieve better lives.

    The article at Psychology Today is http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/bipolar-advantage/201311/are-you-fighting-stigma-or-causing-it

    February 1, 2014 at 2:02 am | Reply
  11. Gina Fessenden

    I am bipolar as well and it was a daily struggle to get the medication necessary to control my episodes. In the first two years I could not afford the 250 dollars a month cost and went offs medication after being hospitalized for a week and a half. I then lost a investment advisor career, another banking investment sales position a year later, then another 8 jobs in a year and a half, giving money to two scammers – a woman I worked with who I thought was in dire straits and a parole officer who called me on the phone and pretended to be my boyfriend. I manically handed over $50,000 to these two people until my 30 yr old son took my credit/debit cards and car and turned them into the police. I was in denial as she told me there was life insurance to pay me back that was tied up in the court system. This lady was sentenced to two years in prison and she refused to name her accomice and has been out since May of 2013. I have received just under $50 back so far. I now am working on a book.... This should have never happened, but I was very sick! I am now on disability and get my drugs free from Bristol Myers.

    January 31, 2014 at 7:55 am | Reply

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