by Brook Bolen
Categories: Causes, People
Tags: .

Esteemed actress Glenn Close addressed a major conference on mental illness in Ottawa on Monday. The conference, hosted by the Mental Health Commission of Canada and which confronts and addresses social stigma around mental illness, is the largest ever of its kind. It comes weeks after the commission published its highly-anticipated national mental health strategy, which is to help guide governments, businesses, health-care professionals and individuals to recognize and treat mental illness more effectively.

The six-time Oscar nominee used her own personal and professional experiences with mental illness to inform her presentation, admitting that the role she’s best known for, the violent femme fatale in the 1987 blockbuster “Fatal Attraction”, has unintentionally helped perpetuate “the prejudice that mentally ill people are violent and terrifying.” Close’s passionate and sometimes-tearful speech addressed the evolution of her understanding of mental illness, which began with her first encounters with the street people she perceived as “different” and “scary” as a struggling actress in New York City in the 1970s.

Her understanding grew during the making of “Fatal Attraction”, when she developed “a deep empathy” for her character, who ultimately stalks the married man with whom she’s had a brief affair. The film’s original ending had Close’s character commit suicide, but was changed, despite her objections, to show the character shot and killed because test audiences wanted more severe punishment.

Finally, Close discussed her own personal experiences with mental illness, including numerous ostracized relatives who struggled silently. The pervasiveness of mental illness, and the stigma-fuelled silence around it, motivated Close to “focus on the eradication of the stigma and prejudice and discrimination.”

According to Close, the stigma and shame around mental illness affects even those who grapple with it, which hinders them from reaching out for help. Far from being doomed, Close says “Their illnesses can be managed. They can achieve their potential and be respected as co-workers, neighbours, friends, spouses, as productive members of their communities.”

Although Lisa Raitt, the federal minister of labour, encouraged employers to address mental illness in the workplace, Close and other participants avoided discussing much-needed federal funding for mental health, focusing instead on the importance of kindness and empathy.

via National Post