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Glenn Close, an Emmy, Golden Globe, and Tony Award winning actress, has been very involved in eliminating the stigma of mental illness for several years now. She has played characters that have mental illness in three of her films: a borderline personality in Fatal Attraction, a woman with post-traumatic stress disorder in A Streetcar Named Desire, and a delusional individual in Sunset Boulevard.
In her offstage life, Glenn Close understands the societal constraints that individuals with mental illness must deal with as well. Her sister suffers from bipolar disorder and her nephew from schizoaffective disorder. There has been a lot of depression and alcoholism in her family as well. The traditional approach by her family members toward mental illness was silence. Glenn Close describes scriptwriters as portraying those with mental illness as “dangerous threats who must be contained, if not destroyed.” Their portrayals serve as entertainment.
Glenn Close says that moviegoers consider her character Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction to be “evil incarnate.” Yet while Glenn researched her behavior, she ended emphasizing with Alex. She was in a lot of pain psychologically and should have had medication. After consulting with psychologists, Glenn realized that she was in much more danger to herself than to others. The original ending for the script was changed to make Alex’s death reflect the hatred that viewers had for her character. Glenn says that changing the ending projected a misleading image of mental illness to the public.
1 in 6 adults and almost 1 in 10 children suffer from a diagnosable mental illness. But the stigma associated with the illness can be as challenging as the disease itself. While we are openly raising awareness about breast cancer and AIDS, we shy away from the same open response to raising awareness about mental illness, marginalizing the very people who need our acceptance the most. Support and open conversation for family members is also needed.
One of the best ways we can help those with mental illness is by understanding what it is and what it isn’t. Myths about mental illnesses contribute to stigma, which often prevents those who are living with mental illness from seeking help. Mental illness is a disorder of the brain, and like most diseases of the body, it has many causes, including genetic, biological, environmental and social or cultural factors. Mental illnesses are treatable through medication and psychosocial therapies, which allow those with mental illnesses to be vibrant and productive members of our society.
Here are some Facts vs. Fiction about mental illness from the Bring Change 2 Mind non-profit, which Glenn Close created to counter the stigma associated with mental illness:
FICTION: People with a mental illness are often violent.
FACT: Actually, the vast majority of people with mental health conditions are no more violent than anyone else. People with mental illness are much more likely to be the victims of crime.
FICTION: Mental illness is a sign of weakness.
FACT: A mental illness is not caused by personal weakness—nor can it be cured by positive thinking or willpower – proper treatment is needed.
FICTION: Only military personnel who have been in combat can suffer from PTSD.
FACT: While PTSD is prevalent in men and women who have seen combat, experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event can trigger PTSD, including violent personal assaults such as rape or robbery, natural or human-caused disasters, or accidents.
FICTION: People with a mental illness will never get better.
FACT: For some people, a mental illness may be a lifelong condition, like diabetes. But as with diabetes, proper treatment enables many people with a mental illness to lead fulfilling and productive lives.
FICTION: Children don’t suffer from mental illness.
FACT: Millions of children are affected by depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. As a matter of fact, 1 in 10 children suffer from a diagnosable mental illness. Getting treatment is essential.
FICTION: “Mental illness can’t affect me!”
FACT: Mental illness can affect anyone. While some illnesses have a genetic risk, mental illness can affect people of all ages, races and income levels, whether or not there is a family history.
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