The actress and her family fight to change the stigma and the silence around mental illness

By Liz McNeil
May 12, 2021 08:30 AM
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Not long after Jessie Close's son, Calen, was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder — a condition that combines the symptoms of schizophrenia and mood disorders — she called her sister Glenn Close with a request.

"I called Glennie and said, 'Can you please help?' Because the prejudice against mental illness is overwhelming,'" says Jessie, 67 in this week's issue of PEOPLE. "And she did."

Jessie, who has bipolar 1 disorder, was worried about the backlash and judgments, he, along with many others who suffer from mental illness, would face. Says Jessie: "We're frightened of things we don't understand."

Her sister took her plea to heart. In 2010, Glenn cofounded the nonprofit, Bring Change To Mind, (BC2M) with a pledge to raise awareness and end the stigma — and the silence surrounding mental illness.

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Credit: Seonaid B. Campbell/ Courtesy Bring Change 2 Mind

"You can't solve problems unless you start talking about them — and not whispering," says the Oscar-nominated actress who took on a new role as a mental health advocate. "That changes everything."

The silence surrounding mental illness is one that ran deep in her own family. Their great Uncle Worrall "would get manic and strip naked in the stable and hop on a horse and gallop all over the countryside," recalls Jessie.

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Yet, says Glenn, "No one ever talked about it. I did know that my mother's half-brother had committed suicide and that her own mother was depressed. She was also depressed and took meds for it."

In recent years, as she has watched Jessie and Calen share their stories, the Hillbilly Elegy star says she's been inspired by their honesty. "That they speak publicly on a national platform about what they actually lived with, that's just raw courage," says Glenn. "And they have been my heroes, even though that's an overused word, they truly are."

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L to R: Glenn Close, Tina Close, Jessie Close, Alexander Close in 1958
| Credit: Courtesy Grand Central Publishing
glenn close
Credit: Maximillian Tortoriello

"I think illustrating the inner world can help more people understand," says Calen, a painter who lives in Bozeman, Montana, who has found stability with medication. "There is a vast spectrum that humans are born into."

Listen below to the episode of our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day for more of PEOPLE's interview with Glenn Close, who opens up about her very personal fight to change the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Knowing that mental illness runs in their family, has given both he and his mom a certain solace. As Jessie sees it, "Compassion is something we need to have as human beings and mental illness is a good place to start."

This month, Glenn and BC2M are partnering with PEOPLE and its Let's Talk About It Mental Health Initiative in an effort to destigmatize mental illness.

A four-part virtual panel discussion series on mental health and young people through the lens of parenting, masculinity, race, LGBTQIA, and COVID-19, Conversations with Bring Change to Mind in Partnership with PEOPLE, will be moderated by PEOPLE's editor-in-chief, Dan Wakeford during Mental Health Awareness Month and will stream from May 24-27 on PEOPLE.com, PEOPLE's YouTube, Twitter and PeopleTV's social channels, as well as on BringChange2Mind.org.

If you or someone you know need mental health help, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.