Mar 02

Jessie Close: Memoir About Bipolar Disorder

You would have thought that after Glenn starred in Fatal Attraction, our family would have had a serious discussion about mental illness. Even Glenn didn’t see the connection between the crazed Alex Forrester character she’d portrayed and me. Jessie Close, Resilience: Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness

Many familiar with actress Glenn Close may already know she’s had an active role in helping to eradicate mental health stigma and that both her younger sister Jessie Close and her nephew Calen, Jessie’s son, have spoken openly about their own mental health issues.

In this PSA for their organization Bring Change 2 Mind, Calen, who has schizophrenia, is front and center. Glenn and Calen’s mom are also featured:

Recently Jessie, assisted by both Pete Earley and Glenn, wrote a memoir, Resilience: Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness, which reveals that a diagnosis of bipolar disorder with psychotic features was a long time in coming for her. 50-ish when she began to learn about her condition, Jessie had already experienced five failed marriages and a history of drug/alcohol addictions. And her son had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

From an excerpt Early provides on his website, we learn that Jessie had actually been haunted by voices since her teens. She refers to the voices as “the Creature”—and they often told her to kill herself.

Was there anything significant from Jessie’s childhood that may have affected her mental health? Possibly. Kirkus Reviews describes a history of parental abandonment and family cult involvement:

…(H)er story quickly escalates into a harrowing ride for readers unaccustomed to the ups and downs of someone living with a mental disorder. When her parents joined the Moral Re-Armament [a cult] in the 1950s, Close’s childhood became chaotic, with frequent moves, one of which led the family to Switzerland and another to the Belgian Congo, where her father was physician to President Mobutu. By 15, she’d moved back to America to live with her grandmother and instantly began experimenting with sex, drugs and alcohol, three things Close would continue to abuse for the next three decades.

Selected Book Reviews

Publishers Weekly: “Close’s story alternates with brief corroborative vignettes written by her sister in a belabored and grim memoir that will nonetheless reach its intended audience thanks to the author’s famous sister and their shared nonprofit group geared toward mental health, Bring Change 2 Mind.”

Keith Herrell, Bookpage: “With a title like Resilience, it’s a foregone conclusion that the book will end on a hopeful note—in Close’s words, ‘a new chapter in my life, one of sobriety, hope and purpose.’ With her sister’s encouragement, Close is telling her story to the world in hopes of removing the stigma from mental illness. It’s a story well worth reading.”

Sharon Peters, USA Today: “Keep plugging through it. She has lived a life that even at her worst was spellbinding, and it’s a definitely-worth-the-read memoir.”

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. The website states that featured are 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.”

They are Brandon Marshall, pro footballer; Ben Scrivens, pro hockey goalie; Michael Angelakos, lead singer of Passion Pit; and Wayne Brady, actor and comedian. “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.”