Oct. 21, 2009 -- For more than 25 years, actress Glenn Close has wowed audiences with memorable performances. But her latest role in a public service announcement addressing the stigma of mental illness hits particularly close to home.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about one in four adults in the United States have a diagnosable mental disorder. Close is speaking out for the first time on television about the legacy of mental illness in her own family. Her sister, Jessie Close, has bipolar disorder, and Jessie's son Calen Pick, 28, has schizo-affective disorder.
"Mental illness is just part of the human condition," the actress said today on "Good Morning America," adding that her family hopes that the sisters' campaign will help foster a dialogue about a condition that we should "talk about as openly as cancer or diabetes."
Glenn Close, an Emmy, Golden Globe and Tony award winner and Oscar nominee currently starring in the series "Damages," is also the creator of a nonprofit organization called BringChange2Mind, which she founded to raise awareness about mental illness and to provide support and information to the mentally ill and their families.
That effort includes the PSA, which was shot in Grand Central Station in New York City. Jessie Close wears a T-shirt that says "bi-polar," Glenn Close one that says "sister." Their children also appear in the ad.
"It was intimidating, but I was proud to do it," Jessie Close said. "There has been too much silence about this."
"We wanted to be totally authentic. We wanted people in it who are supporting those who have mental illness, or who have mental illness," the actress said. "In that ad, everybody you'll see is actually a family with mental illness, whether it's depression or PTSD or schizophrenia."
Lifelong Struggle With Mental Illness
Jessie, the youngest of the four Close siblings, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder nine years ago at the age of 47, "after living with it probably her whole life," said her sister. Bipolar disorder affects some 5.7 million American adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
The actress said her sister was always a "wild child," and Jessie now says she knew for most of her life that something was wrong. Both sisters said a lack of understanding of mental illness when they were growing up played a part in Jessie's delayed diagnosis.
"You don't talk about depression or alcoholism or mental illness. ... I think that's probably true in a lot of families," her sister said. "We didn't have the vocabulary, we didn't have the knowledge."
"First of all, we didn't know what it was, second of all we didn't talk about it," Jessie added.
Close Sisters on Creativity and Mental Illness
The experience was vastly different for Jessie's son Calen, who was diagnosed with mental illness after he was sent home from boarding school at 15. Calen was ultimately diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder, which means he has both schizophrenia and bipolar disease.
Jessie Close herself was "properly diagnosed after he got sick, and as she sought treatment the entire family began to get educated about mental illness. Jessie Close also has a daughter, Mattie, 18, and another son, Alex, 26.
"You have to be your own advocate," she said.
With medication, Jessie Close's symptoms have been brought under control, and family members realize how fortunate it is that they can afford good care. She has experienced side effects, including fatigue and weight gain, and finding a balance between staying stable and staying creative took time. Jessie, a writer, said, "It's worth it.
"Both my son and I were terrified that we wouldn't be able to create. … He's a painter," she said. "The medication will help if you stick with it."
"We're getting more and more sophisticated medication," Glenn Close said. "We need to keep people with mental illness living full and productive and creative lives."
Her sister's message to others is to "be patient with yourself, love yourself" and to rely on the support of family and friends.
"I wouldn't give up how I can function now," she said.
CLICK HERE to visit BringChange2Mind.org to learn more about mental illness.
CLICK HERE to visit Calen Pick's Web site.