Glenn Close Speaks About Mental Health Advocacy from TED Stage

Glenn Close sits on a chair on stage at TED Women, with a red TED sign visible on the left, Pat Mitchell sitting on the right, and a projection of a closeup of Glenn Close above

Award-winning actor Glenn Close is best known for her roles in iconic films like “Fatal Attraction,” “101 Dalmatians,” and “The Big Chill.” 

And while her work is certainly iconic, the cause closest to her heart is mental health advocacy.

It was nearly 15 years ago that Close began her foray into advocacy when she created a public service announcement with her sister, Jessie, who lives with bipolar disorder (and is the author of the book “Resilience”). 

“She [Jessie] came up to me one summer… and she said ‘I need your help. I can’t stop thinking about killing myself,’” Close recalled solemnly on stage at TEDWomen in Atlanta, Georgia on Thursday, in conversation with host Pat Mitchell. 

Glenn Close sits on a chair on stage at TED Women, with a red TED sign visible on the left, Pat Mitchell sitting on the right, and a projection of a closeup of Glenn Close above
Glenn Close and Host Pat Mitchell speak at SESSION 3 at TEDWomen 2023: Two Steps Forward. October 11-13, 2023, Atlanta, GA. Photo: Jasmina Tomic / TED

“I was in shock. I had absolutely no clue of what she was dealing with. My mom and I were able to get her help.” 

The PSA, filmed in Grand Central Station, was one of the first bold steps toward destigmatizing mental health conditions, featuring real-life people wearing their diagnoses and conditions emblazoned across their chests on t-shirts. 

Along with the 2009 PSA, Close started her own foundation, Bring Change to Mind

Since then, the nonprofit has worked to end the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness by working with industry and policy leaders to make a real difference in the lives of teens and adults across the country. 

The nonprofit is also aimed at helping young people because Jessie Close’s son, Calen, lives with schizophrenia. 

A closeup of Glenn Close speaking at TED Women
Glenn Close and Host Pat Mitchell speak at SESSION 3 at TEDWomen 2023: Two Steps Forward. October 11-13, 2023, Atlanta, GA. Photo: Jasmina Tomic / TED

“You have to be very resilient,” Close said about her sister and nephew. “They’ve said, we have found that the stigma around what we are dealing with can be worse than the diseases themselves.” 

She recalled Calen’s time in a psychiatric hospital and how none of his friends were around when he returned from treatment. That loneliness is what she hopes to combat. 

Now, Bring Change to Mind works in over 500 high schools in 40 states across the country to support peer-to-peer clubs that “create stigma-free schools.”

“I thought my main contribution would be making PSAs and things like that, but we have evolved,” Close said.

“The thing I’m very proud of is the kids. It’s peer-to-peer. It’s not high schools that write to us. It’s the kids that write to us. The kids say ‘We need a Bring Change to Mind club in our high school.’ They are phenomenal.” 

Glenn Close and Pat Mitchell sit in hairs on stage at TED, with a blurry camera in the foreground
Glenn Close and Host Pat Mitchell speak at SESSION 3 at TEDWomen 2023: Two Steps Forward. October 11-13, 2023, Atlanta, GA. Photo: Erin Lubin / TED

According to Close, of the nearly 14,000 students involved in Bring Change to Mind’s high school program, 61% want to go into mental health care careers after they graduate. 

This is a hopeful statistic, as Close spoke from the TED stage about how America faces a “crisis of care,” forcing people to travel great distances to find treatment and support — and continuing to stigmatize folks living with mental health conditions. 

“People can not be hired because they actually admit that they have had the courage to ask for treatment. That’s wrong,” Close said. “Our whole attitude has to change.” 

But there’s reason to hope, Close said, as the Bipartisan Safer Neighborhoods Act, signed into law by President Biden in June 2022, is helping to create community behavioral health clinics in every state

Glenn Close sitting in a chair across from Pat Mitchell on stage with a blurry red TED sign in the background
Glenn Close and Host Pat Mitchell speak at SESSION 3 at TEDWomen 2023: Two Steps Forward. October 11-13, 2023, Atlanta, GA. Photo: Jasmina Tomic / TED

“They have put aside $8.5 billion in the next ten years to establish what they’re calling Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics in every state of the union, in whatever town or country needs one,” Close said. “Look into it.”

At the end of the day, Close simply no longer wants people to slip through the cracks. The cause is especially close to her heart, as she continues to live in Montana alongside her sister and nephew. 

Most recently, she shared, her family lost a close friend who died as a result of untreated PTSD. This friend, John Allen, was a dedicated U.S. veteran who completed three tours in Afghanistan, and even officiated Close’s daughter’s wedding. 

Aerial view of Glenn Close on stage in front of a large auditorium of people, with a projected image of John Allen officiating Close's daughter's wedding
Glenn Close and Host Pat Mitchell speak at SESSION 3 at TEDWomen 2023: Two Steps Forward. October 11-13, 2023, Atlanta, GA. Photo: Gilberto Tadday / TED

Just two days prior to Close taking the stage in Atlanta, John lost his life through alcohol poisoning, from untreated PTSD. She dedicated her time at TEDWomen discussing mental health to him.

“I dedicate this talk to a young man who should still be alive,” Close said. “But because he fell through the cracks in a country that has not cared enough to create care… may we remember John, and many, many, many like him — and make a difference.”

Article Details

October 13, 2023 7:41 AM
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