Actress Glenn Close advocated for strengthening mental health legislation on Capitol Hill today and shared the story of her own family's mental health struggles.
"Our family had no vocabulary for mental illness," Close said in a news conference in the U.S. Capitol. "It took that crisis point for us to start waking up and learning about what she [her sister] had been through."
Close's sister was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 50 after contemplating suicide, and Close's nephew suffers from a schizoaffective disorder.
Close, who is the founder of Bring Change 2 Mind, an organization combating the stigma and discrimination faced by those who suffer from mental illness, was on Capitol Hill today to push for the Excellence in Mental Health Act. The bill, which is sponsored by Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., would create a 10-state demonstration program in which states would certify that their community mental health providers are meeting certain standards and offer specific services such as substance abuse programs and 24-hour crisis care.
"Our passion is to make mental illness as easy to talk about as diabetes or cancer so that it is part of the human condition and it's something that should unite us rather than something that we need to whisper about behind closed doors or feel fearful or ashamed. But the truth is the stigma is huge still," Close, 66, said.
"There is a feeling that people are just waiting for permission to start the conversation and I think if they understand that their representatives in Washington actually hear them and care about what they're going through on a daily basis and will help their communities, I think that is going to change the climate and the landscape of mental health in this country," she added.
David Russell, the director of "Silver Linings Playbook," joined Stabenow and Blunt earlier this year to introduce the legislation. Actor Bradley Cooper, who played a man living with bipolar disorder in "Silver Linings Playbook," has also teamed up with lawmakers to discuss the need to improve the mental health system.
Stabenow said she expects the legislation, which was crafted after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last year, to be considered on the Senate floor in February or March.
Close met privately with senators after the news conference to discuss the need to enact new mental health legislation.
Great to meet w Glenn Close - actress & activist fighting to end stigma & discrimination against mental illness. pic.twitter.com/qWRRfwftyE
- Barbara Mikulski (@SenatorBarb) December 18, 2013