By Diane Y. Welch
The widespread nature of mental illness and the associated misconceptions that surround it are now in the spotlight due to two nonprofit organizations that are on a national campaign to change the public’s perception of mental illness.
“The Evening of Change,” a fundraising event held Nov. 12 at The Grand Del Mar benefited Bring Change 2 Mind (BC2M) and the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF). The two organizations have joined forces to destigmatize mental illness through education and to support those affected by the condition by connecting them with helpful and often life-saving services.
Actress Glenn Close, president of BC2M, and her sister, Jessie Close, who has bipolar disorder, were the featured keynote speakers at the event. They were joined by Calen, Jessie Close’s son, who has schizoaffective disorder, and the three talked to this newspaper during a reception interview.
“Most of us know something about mental illness or have been touched by it,” said Glenn Close. “It’s a condition of being a human being. It’s time that we accept that and start to be able to talk openly without shame, without fear, without censure about it,” she said.
Statistics show that 1 in 6 adults and almost 1 in 10 children suffer from a diagnosable mental illness, and 1 in 4 families is affected by mental illness, according to BC2M’s website. One in 5 people who suffer from bipolar disorder will end their own lives due to their emotional pain, said Jessie Close.
The uniqueness of BC2M is due in part to its large core group of volunteers who are either living with mental illness themselves or have family that do.
“They have been there, they know what they are talking about and anybody who reaches out on our website will be contacted within 48 hours by a live person. That person will stay in contact with them until they get the help that they need,” said Glenn Close. “This is truly the heart and soul of what we are doing and what makes us really authentic.”
Much like a life-long management of diabetes, a brain-related illness may be managed with the right medications and therapy, said Jessie Close. People with mental illness live productive lives, and early diagnosis is key, said Calen.
The idea of a national anti-stigma campaign was born when Glenn Close volunteered her time at the Fountain House, a residential facility in New York run by people with mental illness for people with mental illness. A partnership was formed and BC2M was founded just over a year ago and launched publicly with a website and public service announcement.
“[The website] is a genuine coming together of people who finally have the relief of being able to tell their story in a forum where people care,” said Glenn Close.
It also has quick and easy access to studies, grants and research news, and links to major mental health organizations. “One of our main strengths is our affiliates and partnerships,” she said.
One such organization is IBPF a San Diego-based organization founded four years ago by four mothers who have children with bipolar disorder, and who found navigating the mental health system daunting. Then named the California Bipolar Foundation, it initially offered support groups out of the four women’s homes. IBPF grew rapidly to a global presence, said Muffy Walker, the foundation co-founder and current president, who has a 17 -year-old son with bipolar disorder. Educating others about bipolar is at the heart of the organization’s mission and partnering with BC2M is helping get the word out, she said.
An effective vehicle to educate is through public service announcements (PSAs). BC2M’s first PSA was filmed in Grand Central Station and directed by Ron Howard. Jessie and Calen joined Glenn Close, along with hundreds of volunteers, in making the PSA, which may be viewed on BC2M’s website.
In summing up the birth of BC2M, Glenn Close said, “I wasn’t looking to do this but being faced with what Jessie and Calen went through [with their illnesses] the penny dropped one day. You take care of your own. If you don’t take care of your family who will?
Then I asked myself, ‘Gee I wonder if it will affect my career, if people know that I have family members with mental illness?’ And when that thought came into my head, I thought, ‘Well what’s the alternative? Not to do it because you are scared?’ So that sealed it for me.”
To find out more about BC2M, visit www.bringchange2mind.org; to find out more about IBPF, visit www.internationalbipo