Former U.S. First Lady Rosalynn Carter, Actress Glenn Close and Activist Jessie Close Speak Out About Mental Illness

It takes guts to stand in the middle of New York City’s Grand Central Station wearing a t-shirt that says “bipolar,” especially when you’re being filmed for a national public service announcement directed by Ron Howard. Yet, that’s just what Jessie Close did in 2009, when she helped her famous sister Glenn launch Bring Change 2 Mind, an anti-stigma campaign aimed at removing misconceptions about mental illness.

“It was scary,” Jessie says of the very public “outing” of her disease. “But it was glorious and freeing afterward.”

As guests at the 28th annual Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy at The Carter Center in Atlanta on Nov.1, both Jessie and Glenn Close, along with former U.S. First Lady Rosalynn Carter, sat down for an exclusive interview about how they’re creating change and advancing social inclusion for the mentally ill.

For Mrs. Carter, who’s worked for justice and proper treatment of people with mental illnesses since her pre-White House days (in the early 1970s when her husband, former President Jimmy Carter, was then Governor of Georgia) and now with The Carter Center, the Close sisters’ story is important because it illustrates the positive impact of family support on outcomes for success.

“[They’re] helping everyone understand how mental illnesses can impact someone’s life and relationships,” Mrs. Carter says of Jessie and Glenn Close. “Mental illness isn’t what we see on sensationalized news stories or in movies. People with mental illnesses are sisters or friends, who have many gifts and can make important contributions to their families and communities with our support.”

Jessie Close, 56, wasn’t fully diagnosed with bipolar disorder and mixed-state tendencies until 2004, after decades of ups and downs, battles with alcoholism and a suicide attempt. “It was all family,” she says of her support system on the road to recovery. Now “doing well” on a medication regimen and with regular check-ins from her sister and friends, she chronicles her days on a heartfelt and revealing blog at the Bring Change 2 Mind website, which along with its Facebook page, has become a safe space for people living with mental illness to share their struggles and paths to wellness.

–Kristi  York Wooten, Huffington Post

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