Glenn Close, Joey Pants and Fighting Stigma


Everyone complains about stigma and I am convinced that the best way to end it is by putting a human face on mental illness.

It is much more difficult to walk by a person who is homeless and psychotic if that person is your son, your daughter, a member of your family or someone you know. This is why I encourage people with mental disorders and their loved ones to speak out and tell people that mental illnesses are exactly that – illnesses – which can happen to anyone.

Last week, I appeared on a panel at the National Association of Black Journalists Conference on Health Disparities in Washington D.C. that was sponsored, in part, by Eli Lilly. It was an interesting conference for me because I learned a lot about cultural disparities from Dr. Henrie Treadwell of the Morehouse School of Medicine, and Dr. Annelle B. Primm, Director of Minority and National Affairs at the American Psychiatric Association. Both explained that schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression do not pay attention to skin color. But there is a huge difference in how various ethic groups react to mental illnesses. Many African American males are reluctant to seek help because they are afraid of being perceived as being weak in their communities.

I talked at the conference about how important it is for successful persons who have a mental illness to speak out. When someone such as Mike Wallace of CBS 60 Minutes describes the struggles that he has had with depression or Patty Duke openly recounts how bipolar disorder impacted her life, it not only fights stigma but also gives hope to persons who are struggling with those same issues.

Bebe Moore Campbell, a beautiful, bestselling author, was a wonderful example of an African American who talked openly about mental illness in her family. Sadly, Bebe died in 2006, leaving a vacuum in the black community.

My comments about Bebe caused me to think about others who have spoken openly. Two of the newest to join the fight are Glenn Close and Joey Pantoliano, and both of them have launched their own websites and used their considerable talents and connections to make films about mental disorders.

Glenn Close has a sister, Jessie, who has bipolar disorder, and Glenn and Jessie are fighting stigma through BringChange2Mind.

Joey Pants has struggled with depression which he describes openly at NoKidding,MeToo.

While I have never met Glenn Close, I have appeared on stage with Joey Pants several times and the impact that he has is remarkable because when consumers hear about his struggles and see how successful he has been – well, it’s a reminder of how well they can do too!

Celebrities, politicians, and other well-known persons are always being asked to lend their name to causes, usually to help raise money. What I’d like to see is a National Mental Health Champions’ List. The persons on it would not be asked to donate money, time, or do anything except step forward and add their name to the list of celebrities who either have a mental illness or a family member who does. I’d really like for NAMI to create this list because it is the largest grassroots mental health organization in America and it actively fights stigma.

Think how much good it would do to have a long, long list of well-known actors, politicians, business leaders, journalists and others who would be willing to simply step forward.  I’ll gladly sign.

The more names on this list, the harder it will be for others to walk by someone who is psychotic on the street and hurry away.

I get emails all of the time from persons asking what they can do. Well, here’s an opportunity. Visit Glenn Close’s webpage and Joey Pants’ too. Send a note to NAMI or MHA. Tell them that we need a well-publicized, comprehensive list of celebrities who are not afraid of fighting stigma.

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.

  • Great idea about a list of people who are famous with mental illness. I've seen plenty of old lists with people like Lincoln on it, but nothing current. Is it true that Jim Carey has bipolar disorder? How about Robin Williams? Anyone know?

  • Great idea about a list of people who are famous with mental illness. I've seen plenty of old lists with people like Lincoln on it, but nothing current. Is it true that Jim Carey has bipolar disorder? How about Robin Williams? Anyone know?

  • I don't think we want to “out” anyone. Patty Duke, Glenn and Joey are excellent faces of mental illness, and I for one appreciate all they are doing to help fight the stigma. But the stigma still exists, big time. If others want to “come out” and talk about how mental illness impacts their lives, that's wonderful!

  • NAMI publishes a “Famous People” poster that can spread the word in schools, hospitals, offices, etc. Along with a couple other NAMI posters, it used to show up in the background sometimes in episodes of the televsion show ER. At $1.50 apiece, they are a bargain. Nice enough for framing.
    http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=Nami_S

  • NAMI publishes a “Famous People” poster that can spread the word in schools, hospitals, offices, etc. Along with a couple other NAMI posters, it used to show up in the background sometimes in episodes of the televsion show ER. At $1.50 apiece, they are a bargain. Nice enough for framing.
    http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=Nami_S