Glenn Close and Family Tackle Stigma of Mental Illness

Sisters share family's legacy of mental illness and work to increase awareness.

ByABC News via logo
October 20, 2009, 12:17 PM

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."

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.

CLICK HERE to visit Calen Pick's Web site.

CLICK HERE to return to the "Good Morning America" Web site.