I was impressed and pleased to find this full-page advertisement, featuring actress Glenn Close, that addressed the stigma of mental illness:
Here’s the body copy of the advertisement:
Glenn Close’s sister Jessie and Jessie’s son Calen have a disease. And even though their story is their own, it’s far from unusual. The fact is, one in six adults has a mental illness. The harder reality is that the ignorance that fuels the stigma associated with mental illness can often be the most painful part of managing the disease.
Glenn and her family chose to be national voices for the first campaign dedicated to fighting the stigma that accompanies mental illness. Because having a disease is difficult enough. Being blamed, or ostracized for having it, well that’s just crazy.
Readers of Bystander may suspect that I have some personal experience with schizophrenia. And it’s true: my brother John suffered from schizophrenia. I touched upon John’s experiences in a fictionalized way in that book, and also blogged about it more directly here.
Clicking around cyberspace, I found this insightful, deeply-felt piece written by Glenn Close for O, The Oprah Magazine, titled “Glenn Close’s Aha Moment.” It begins:
As an actress, I have always loved words. I believe in their power. But certain words have power over us — until we destigmatize them and learn to speak them out loud, without fear or shame.
By the way, since I was mildly critical of J.K. Rowling last week, let’s recognize how brilliant and accurate she was to make the characters in the Harry Potter books fear the word “Voldemort.” They were afraid to say it out loud. And to that extent, he held dominion over them, for he had stolen a piece of their language. Ms. Close continues:
My aha moment hit me several years ago, when I realized that three deeply frightening words had power over me: schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar. There is mental illness in my family. And I knew that if I really wanted to help, I would have to learn to say those words fearlessly, out loud. That’s the beginning . . .
And my aha moment is beginning to have repercussions. A group of us, along with Fountain House, are launching a campaign called Bring Change 2 Mind. In June we went to Washington and presented our idea to the major mental health organizations. With their enthusiastic blessing and support, we shot our first public service announcement— in Grand Central Station — directed by Ron Howard. Jessie and I and our children are in it. And John Mayer gave us use of his exquisite song “Say.” Bringchange2mind.org has links to all the major mental health groups. It will connect people to whatever they need: help, community, education, or a chance to join one of the organizations.
It is just the beginning, but I hope it will give people the courage to talk about mental illness, to lose their fear of the words, to conquer shame and stigma. Jessie and I felt a huge sense of relief when we decided to speak out. There is nothing to hide. Schizophrenia. Bipolar disorder. Depression. I have no fear. We are all connected, and none of us should ever feel marginalized, stigmatized, and alone. — As told to Johanna Schneller
I congratulate Ms. Close on the courage of her convictions, and the bright shining power of her insight. This is good work; I believe she’s right. We need to talk about this stuff, not hide from it, because there is a power in words — a power to do harm, and a power to make positive change.
“Change a mind about mental illness, and you can change a life.”
Here’s the PSA as directed by Ron Howard:
Hey Jimmy, I want to thank you for posting this. My father had and my brother has bipolar, and it is very difficult to talk about. Sometimes I’ll just say they are sick when I talk about them, never feeling right about telling people what they really have. This post is an eye-opener, and I’m happy Glenn Close is taking this step to help all of us with mental illness in our families.
Dan, that’s been my experience: once we start talking about these things, it sort of breaks the silence and others begin to share their stories, too. We’ve all got them, no one escapes this life without hardships, pain, loss.
But it’s true, mental illness is still one of those things that we’re just not talking about. That said, sometimes you just don’t want to go into a detailed conversation. That’s fine, I think. You have to pick your spot.
Thanks for commenting, it means a lot to me.