Mental illness is becoming a more prevalent topic in Hollywood.
Catherine Zeta-Jones and Rene Russo are the two recent celebrities to come forward about having bipolar disorder and Robin Williams tragically took his own life last August after years of struggling with depression and substance abuse. Demi Lovato has come a long way since her early days of inflicting self-harm, and it’s been three years since Brooke Shields was scrutinized by Tom Cruise for her use of medicine while suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety.
More voices of those battling a mental disorder are starting to be heard. Like cancer and diabetes, mental disorders including depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia are diseases. So why is there stigma surrounding some diseases and not others?
By far, the most rewarding college course I took this year was called “#StigmaSucks: The Interplay of Mental Illness, Media and Social Change.” The class was taught by one of Indiana University’s distinguished professors, Dr. Bernice Pescosolido, who has been working on the issue of ending mental illness stigmas for a little longer than a decade. Her good friend, six-time Oscar nominated actress Glenn Close, has partnered with Pescosolido in the Bring Change 2 Mind Campaign. The campaign aims to “eradicate the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness.”
Close is arguably most associated with her chilling role as Alex Forest in the 1987 thriller Fatal Attraction. Close’s character, a single woman struggling with bipolar disorder, was the initial step of moving forward with a cause that would help save lives.
Close’s sister Jessie was treated for the same disease. She came to Glenn 10 years ago and confided, “I can’t stop thinking about killing myself.” Consequently, Bring Change 2 Mind was established five years ago.
For the last four months in my #stigmasucks class, we have been working on separate campaigns as a part of Bring Change 2 Mind. My group of five people had been preparing the last few weeks to make our presentation to Glenn Close herself who would be sitting in our classroom, judging our presentations, and asking questions.
Groups presented to Glenn early Monday and afterwards, there was a screening of Fatal Attraction with an introduction by Close followed by a Q&A. Glenn Close is one of the most intelligent and elegant people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. In an intimate setting with about a dozen students and Close, we had an open conversation about the film, mental illness, and where society stands.
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures
Besides the funny stories Glenn had to share in regards to filming (Michael Douglas accidentally went too far in a choking scene), she brought an enormous amount of insight and experience to this issue of mental illness stigmas.
Prior to her Bloomington visit, Close spoke at the Variety 2015 Power Women luncheon in New York and said, “As an actress, I have terrified men and I certainly terrified children but I have yet to really terrify women. There is very little that frightens us. Many of us feel we must hide or suppress our truth in order to protect ourselves and our families from judgment, shame and stigma.”
She then spoke of her friend and late actor Robin Williams, who might be alive today had he been able to approach his issues publicly, without fear of stigma.
“I feel if Robin was here today, he would be whispering in my ear, ‘a couple of jokes would help right now.’”
Photo Credit: WENN
“She was really one of the first public figures to speak out in mental health advocacy world,” Pamela Harrington of Bring Change 2 Mind said to Variety (Glenn is on the April cover). “She’s been a beacon of hope for so many people.”
As Glenn, my sociology professor and my classmates have learned, ending the stigma surrounding mental illness is a vital part of our society because no voice should be silenced.
To learn more about Bring Change 2 Mind and how to end the stigma, visit bringchange2mind.org
Also, I had to get a picture with her!
Header Photo Credit: Splash