When mental illness hit close to home for actress Glenn Close, she was compelled to do something to help others struggling get the care and support they need. Now, Bring Change to Mind is breaking down the mental health stigma among our nation’s youth.
Nearly 15 years ago, Glenn Close’s sister, Jessie, told Glenn she was having regular suicidal thoughts.
“I had absolutely no clue she was struggling,” Glenn said.
Jessie was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and her son, Calen, with schizophrenia. They both received the treatment and support they needed to address their conditions, but reaching out to receive that care — even from a supportive loved one — was extremely difficult.
“They said the stigma they were experiencing could be worse than the chronic diseases they were struggling to manage,” Close said.
Further conversations with her family made Close feel compelled to use her platform to help end the stigma surrounding mental health and illness.
“I told my family that I would do something as long as they would do it with me,” she said. From those conversations, Bring Change to Mind (BC2M) was born.
Erasing the stigma
BC2M is an organization aimed at ending the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness, and bringing important conversations about the topic to the forefront. The non-profit accomplishes this by creating multimedia campaigns, storytelling movements, and youth programs centered around mental health.
“We saw that in working with youth, we could really change the trajectory of a young person’s life,” said Pamela Harrington, BC2M’s executive director.
More than 100,000 kids have gone through BC2M’s high school program, which is active in 42 states. According to Harrington, the program usually comes to schools after students raise concerns about their own or their peers’ mental health, which creates an effective environment for open and honest conversation.
“The kids get it,” Close said. “They are not afraid to talk to each other, peer-to-peer, about the challenges they face. They find out very quickly that they are not alone.”
BC2M’s research-backed program centers around peer-to-peer games, presentations, and conversations. This approach fosters more honest dialogue while the program is ongoing, and makes it easier for kids to ask for — or offer to — help when needed in the future.
“It’s all about keeping lines of communication open,” said Lynn E. Fiellin, M.D., a professor of medicine at the Yale Child Study Center and member of BC2M’s Scientific Advisory Board. “Bring Change to Mind does such a great job of creating a safe space for kids to work through — in a positive way — some of the issues their peers may be having.”
BC2M is looking to expand its youth offerings even further. It recently launched a Middle School Pilot Program designed specifically for 7th and 8th Grade students.
“Coming out of the pandemic, we saw the need for this type of programming is becoming so much more widespread,” Harrington said, “and the groups we need to reach are even younger.”
Harrington sees BC2M’s youth programs reaching far beyond the kids physically involved in them. She says that in polls they’ve run with program attendees, more than 70% say they’re now interested in working in behavioral health.
“I have the most incredible amount of hope, seeing how these students have gravitated toward courageous and vulnerable conversations,” Harrington said. “They’re demanding that we have better systems, better policies, and better leaders. And, eventually, they’re going to become those leaders.”
For Close, BC2M is growing into the force for good she and her sister had envisioned it to be, and is accomplishing its mission of opening the door for important conversations around mental health.
“What we’re seeing is that if you think you’re alone, millions of others are going through the same thing,” Close said. “What you thought of as a weakness will become your strength. But along the way, you will need a vigilant support system.”
To learn more, register your school for the program, or donate to the cause, visit bringchange2mind.org.