Jun 11

“Fatal Attraction”: Another Look At Alex’s Mental Health

When actress Glenn Close participated last week in the White House Conference on Mental Health Awareness she stated to CBS News that her portrayal of Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction (1987) would be different today as a result of her own increased awareness. “I would read that script totally differently.”

Even the two psychiatrists she consulted back then about the role, though, failed to mention that Alex seemed mentally ill.

Close can now see that her character’s depiction has contributed to stigma regarding mental illness, which seems to bother her a great deal. “Most people with mental illness are not violent.”

For a reminder of Fatal Attraction, here’s its trailer:

Since the film, “fatal attraction” has become synonymous with terrorizing and stalking someone, while the term “bunny boiler” has come to indicate, as defined by the Free Dictionary, “a woman who is considered to be emotionally unstable and likely to be dangerously vengeful.” (Due, of course, to what Alex does to the pet bunny.)

Many movie viewers, including scholars, have diagnosed Alex with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Jeremy Clyman, M.A., points out in Psychology Today, though, that the persistent notion that Alex has BPD is highly problematic:

…(B)ecause Glenn played a crazed stalker much more than she played a nuanced, plausible sufferer of BPD. So when people say, ‘You want to know what BPD individuals look like – go watch Fatal Attraction,’ harm is being perpetuated. It’s a sad state of affairs because BPD is a poorly understood diagnosis to begin with and individuals with this label suffer enough stigmas… we don’t need a misguided, over-dramatized prototype of BPD floating around the zeitgeist.

What are the actual characteristics of borderline personality disorder? NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) lists some of the hallmarks. Someone with at least several of these traits might have BPD:

  • Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment by friends and family.
  • Unstable personal relationships that alternate between idealization (“I’m so in love!”) and devaluation (“I hate her”). This is also sometimes known as “splitting.”
  • Distorted and unstable self-image, which affects moods, values, opinions, goals and relationships.
  • Impulsive behaviors that can have dangerous outcomes, such as excessive spending, unsafe sex, reckless driving, or misuse or overuse of substances.
  • Self-harming behavior including suicidal threats or attempts.
  • Periods of intense depressed mood, irritability or anxiety lasting a few hours to a few days.
  • Chronic feelings of boredom or emptiness.
  • Inappropriate, intense or uncontrollable anger—often followed by shame and guilt.
  • Dissociative feelings—disconnecting from your thoughts or sense of identity or “out of body” type of feelings—and stress-related paranoid thoughts. Severe cases of stress can also lead to brief psychotic episodes.

Treatment can include therapy, medication, and support and help for one’s loved ones. The positive news, according to NAMI: “Recent research based on long-term studies of people with BPD suggests that the overwhelming majority of people will experience significant and long-lasting periods of symptom remission in their lifetime.”

Regarding Alex’s diagnosis, others have focused more on her probable erotomania, a condition involving delusions that the object of one’s love interest returns the feelings.

But many viewers have never had a need to diagnose Alex Forrest at all. As described by Desson Howe in The Washington PostClose’s portrayal of the out-of-control stalker was that of a “she-wacko” who “becomes the female equivalent of the vengeance-crazed Robert Mitchum in ‘Cape Fear’ or the robotic Arnold Schwarzenegger in ‘The Terminator’.” A dramatic character who terrifies Michael Douglas’s character and family and thus we moviegoers in the process.

Related to her stellar performance, Howe went on to predict a slew of more “she-wacko” scripts for Close. Who knew she’d not only not go on to represent all kinds of screen “she-wackos” but would actually become the founder of Bring Change 2 Mind, a campaign against the type of mental illness stigma that has affected some of her own family members.

Mar 06

Psychiatric Service Dogs Available for Mental Health Assistance

Last week I cited Dr. Deborah Serani‘s blog post about Jessie Close, who has bipolar disorder, in which Close reveals that she is one of the many who use psychiatric service dogs (PSD’s). Her PSD is named Snitz (do ya love the name? I’m thinking it’s like “snits”? like having fits of agitation?). About Snitz, she states:

…she’s perfect!…She is a tiny girl but is warm and soft and very understanding. She is half miniature Chihuahua, one quarter Rat Terrier and one quarter Yorkie Terrier. I think that sometimes she’s comforting because she gets nervous so I concentrate on her instead of me. When I speak she is the best tool I have. I think sometimes the audience watches Snitz and can’t help but hear me.  When I’m finished speaking people come up to me but are sometimes too shy to talk to me or don’t want to reveal anything about themselves. I’ve watched them approach Snitz, because she’s safe, and pat her. Then they begin speaking to me about themselves. It works. She is a good psychologist.

Close is referring above to her public speaking gigs for Bring Change 2 Mind, an organization co-founded by sister Glenn Close to combat mental health stigma.

The website of The Psychiatric Service Dog Society states that service dogs can be helpful to those with various types of severe psychiatric disabilities “by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors.”

Just some of the tasks psychiatric service dogs can help their handlers with:

  • medication reminders
  • management of crowds
  • dealing with public accommodations
  • orienting during a panic attack
  • wake-ups for school or work
Feb 29

Bring Change 2 Mind: Combating Mental Health Stigma

Writing yesterday about the film Albert Nobbs, starring Glenn Close, reminded me of an important organization that she co-founded, Bring Change 2 Mind, that aims to combat stigma against mental illness.

From the Bring Change 2 Mind website, an explanation of mental health stigma: “Stigma is broadly defined as a collection of adverse and unfair beliefs. The stigma around mental health most often leads to the inaccurate and hurtful objectification of people as dangerous and incompetent.  The shame and isolation associated with stigma prevent people from seeking the help necessary to live healthy and full lives.”

Shown below is a moving PSA shot at Grand Central Station in 2009 on behalf of this organization’s efforts. It was created with the assistance of director Ron Howard and involves many volunteers representing various mental health issues. Among those featured are Close, her sister Jessie–who suffers from bipolar disorder–and their kids.

Apparently, Jessie wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar disorder until the age of 47. During the process of seeking help for her then-teenage son, Calen, she finally learned what had been going on with her own brain chemistry much of her life. It turned out that her son, by the way, suffers from schizoaffective disorder, which is a type of mood disorder that also involves some loss of contact with reality. (Source: “On the Couch…With Jessie Close,” Dr. Deborah Serani.)

Below is a chilling second PSA:

Men often face the challenges of mental health stigma and thus are part of a targeted Bring Change 2 Mind campaign called #StrongerThanStigma. From the website:

#StrongerThanStigma features four inspirational male figures from professional sports leagues, television, and the music industry who have each made mental health advocacy a part of their platform.  These headliners are Brandon Marshall, NFL All-Pro wide receiver for the New York Jets; Ben Scrivens, NHL goalie for the Montreal Canadiens; Michael Angelakos, lead singer of indietronica band Passion Pit; and Wayne Brady, comedian and actor.  Each man either lives with a mental health diagnosis or has chosen to serve as an empathetic advocate, and shares his story and encourages men to start the conversation and end the stigma.

Interested in more info? Check out their “Get Involved” page and other aspects of their services.