“It was a time when I thought, ‘I wonder if I’m known in my field as someone who goes out and opposes stigma and talks about mental health if it’s going to affect my career,'” Close told CNN anchor Anderson Cooper at the Citizen by CNN 2021 conference.
“I’ve never really felt comfortable with the alternative, which is to do nothing and say nothing,” Close told Cooper.
She said the courage to do something came from her sister.
Close said the effort began when Jesse approached Close to tell her that she was having suicidal thoughts and that she needed help. The revelation had an effect on the whole family.
Jesse was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and Beck was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in 2001. Both found help, but the larger family still needs to learn how to talk and understand the problems their loved ones are facing, Close said.
Close said a larger strategy was called for when Claus’ sister and nephew began receiving treatment and realized that the stigma they faced was often as bad as the symptoms they were experiencing.
“We decided as a family to talk about it on a national platform,” she added.
“We should be able to talk about it freely and openly, but … stigma is at the core … the issue that we have to overcome to get the help and funding that mental health in this country needs so far,” Close said.
“I think people don’t understand that you’re not your disease. I think it’s hard for people to understand that there’s something in your brain…a mental health issue, and mental illness is a chronic disease like any other,” Claus said. It happens to be in your brain. It doesn’t make you less, it makes you a part of the human condition.”
What fuels the stigma, says Close, is the way people with mental illness have been “dishonored” for centuries.
The actress said open discussions about mental health also led her to re-evaluate the character she played in 1987’s “Fatal Attraction” opposite Michael Douglas.
In the movie, her character, Alex Forrest, stalks a man she’s been in a relationship with.
At the time, Close said she took the script to two psychiatrists, neither of whom raised the possibility that her character was dealing with mental health issues.
“Now, that’s going to be the first thing I think people are going to talk about,” she said, adding that it would be “interesting” to tell the story from Forrest’s point of view.
Close added that a professor once told her that he used Alex Forrest as a stark example of borderline personality disorder.
But when she did talk about it, Close said she was criticized for making all people with “borderline personality look like monsters.”
The actress said that was never her intention, noting again that it was an “extreme example” of the turmoil and that “for better or worse,” the conversation started.
Learn to talk to each other
Close said mental health concerns are particularly worrying among teens, and the pandemic has only made matters worse.
Close said Bring Change to Mind has created groups in schools where teens can safely share their feelings and develop vocabulary to discuss their mental health.
“If you have peers and you see that their behavior is not the same as before… you can ask one of them if he is ok and you can ask him again and you can ask him again until you get an answer,” she said. .
They can then bring their new tools out of groups to their friends and family, Close added.
“Mental health is a family affair,” she said. “We have to form this safety net between each other.”