First Person: Glenn Close Battles 'Fear and Shame' of Mental Illness
This week an eBay auction of Patty Hewes's wardrobe goes live, and ends July 19. It's a first for me. But I took this step as a means to fight for awareness of something from which millions suffer — the toxic stigma and discrimination around mental illness. It's a story I know well because its pain has touched lives very close to me.
Over the past 30 years, I have built up a significant costume collection — from Jenny's Field's handmade nurses uniform from "The World According to Garp" (my first film) to the evening gown covered with 10 pounds of beads in which I swept down Norma Desmond's staircase in "Sunset Boulevard;" from Alex Forrest's black leather coat to Cruella DeVil's astounding frivolities; from Albert Nobbs's bowler hat to Patty Hewes's brilliant reinvention of the power suit.
I'm not a hoarder by nature, but I am when it comes to my costumes. They represent for me time spent walking in the shoes of an interesting, frequently challenging, character. In television and feature film, you don't get the weeks of rehearsal that you do in theater so the initial collaborations with my costumers, leading to the focus and concentration of costume fittings are very important to me. How they dress is a fundamental expression of who my characters are. I am a terrible shopper and I am certainly not a designer, but I have worked with many of the greats and am always deeply thankful for what they bring to the characters we are creating, because I know that I could never dress them myself; it just isn't in my DNA.
Five years of playing Patty on "Damages" generated a huge wardrobe of very beautiful clothes: her signature shirts, classic trousers and skirts, and Patty's iconic suits. I have kept certain items for my collection and gifted family and friends, but decided to auction off the rest in order to raise money for the non-profit organization I co-founded called Bring Change 2 Mind. Our mission is to end the stigma and discrimination that surrounds mental illness. Three-quarters of the people who have mental illnesses do not seek treatment, largely because of the fear and shame of stigma.
My sister, Jessie, has bipolar disorder and her son, Calen, has schizoaffective disorder. When they fell ill, our family knew nothing about mental illness and never talked about it. Calen fell ill when he was nineteen and spent two years in a psychiatric hospital. His life was saved. But Jessie wasn't properly diagnosed until she was fifty-one. She had always been considered the wild one, the irresponsible one, the one who was just "acting out." She was repeatedly told to "pull up her socks" and get on with it. Then one summer afternoon, when we happened to be together, Jessie begged for my help, saying she couldn't stop thinking about killing herself. I realized the gravity of her terrible struggle and was shaken into action. Our family was able to help get Jessie the care and treatments that she needed and started to seriously educate ourselves so as to really understand what she and Calen were facing every day.
Watch the Bring Change 2 Mind PSA "Schizo" with Calen:
They are both now leading full and productive lives and have learned to manage their chronic illnesses, but we could have tragically lost them. I think about that every day. I was making a career out of playing characters that compelled me to question the why's of their behavior, but had not been able to walk in the shoes of my own sister and nephew. Stigma and discrimination causes us to turn a blind eye — to think that mental illness has nothing to do with us. Even in a family with generational depression, alcoholism, and suicides, we were clueless. One in four families is touched in some way by mental illness. My family is no different than millions of other families.