Like -- I'm sure -- all of you, I have gone through these days since the unspeakable tragedy in Sandy Hook with a feeling of profound sorrow, thinking of the families who lost their children, of the immensity and torment of their grief. As an actress, my craft has taught me to imagine myself walking in the shoes of other human beings -- seeing what they see, hearing what they hear, feeling what they feel. But when I try to imagine what the Sandy Hook families are experiencing, my mind stops at what feels like a breaking point. I think it's because I had the great joy and privilege of raising a child, and any thought of the tragedy takes me back immediately to when she was in kindergarten. I remember how original, spontaneous and wonderfully opinionated she was, and so funny! The outfits she concocted! The shows she put on! I think of how sweet and loyal she was to her friends, how caring and solicitous of all animals that became a part of our household. I think of the sweet smell of her hair and the softness of her skin. I think of her endless sense of wonder and her effortless capacity for joy.
It is so easy to let our thoughts sink to a place of rage, terror and despair, but I choose to take my memories about all that was and is good, beautiful and fearless about my child and to add them to our collective memory -- to everything that connects us. To everything that is good. I believe that we can collectively connect to the Sandy Hook families -- to all families who have experienced trauma and tragedy -- and become a healing force for good.
I also think of Jessie, my sister, and her son Calen and how terrifying it was when Calen fell ill with schizoaffective disorder. They both have talked about what it is like to become ill with something that you know nothing about, and how having the courage to seek help has changed their lives -- all of our lives. A tragedy like Sandy Hook can tend to solidify people's fears and prejudices about mental illness. So it is of vital importance that we, as a community, re-dedicate ourselves to eliminating the stigma that affects 1 in 4 people in our country. We must educate ourselves about mental illnesses, starting with "the big four" -- schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, serious depression and post-traumatic stress -- and talk openly. We must be aware of the dangers that can occur when someone goes undiagnosed as well as the very real possibilities for recovery -- be aware of the fact that the earlier someone seeks treatment, the better their recovery will be. Life, love, fulfillment and dignity are possible.
We must let our congressmen and senators know what we are thinking and talking about. I was talking to Tom Insel, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) recently, and he told me that mental illnesses account for 30 percent of all medical disabilities! The time for our leaders to pay attention to that fact, and do something about it, is way overdue.
On behalf of myself, the Bring Change 2 Mind Board, Scientific Advisory Council and staff, we thank you for your support and call you to action in 2013:
- Ask 10 people to take the pledge and commit to our principles.
- Share your story -- it will help others to find their voice
- Talk openly and listen closely when needed
- Practice empathy and save your judgment
- Be aware of your language -- words can perpetuate stigma
- Support the Change A Mind Campaign by introducing it to your community
With your passion and commitment, person-by-person, family-by-family, community-by-community, we will change minds and lives.
With hope that you and your loved ones have a beautiful holiday season,
This piece was originally posted at BringChange2Mind.org.
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