Jessie Close and Fellow Panelists Speak at Annual National Dialogue Forum

Jessie Close, the younger sister of movie star Glenn Close, told a packed audience of more than 150 people that society has come a long way in accepting and understanding the realities of mental health and substance abuse disorders – but there is still a long way to go.

“The only way to get through hell is to keep going,” said Close, quoting Winston Churchill to convey the enormous struggles that people with mental health disorders live with every day. Jessie was the keynote speaker at a special National Dialogue on Mental Health forum in September 2015, sponsored by the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network, at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford. The forum was moderated by Patricia Rehmer, Hartford HealthCare senior vice president for behavioral health, and featured three other panelists with first-hand experience with the issues of mental health and substance abuse.

Jessie Close, the keynote speaker at the National Dialogue on Mental Health Forum in West Hartford in September 2015, with fellow speaker Bridget Marien.

Jessie Close spoke passionately about the decades she lived under the cloud of substance abuse and depression, never fully understanding what she was struggling with. Her frequent efforts to obtain a clearer understanding led to often vague or counterproductive diagnoses, she said, often setting her on a path of ineffective treatments that only deepened her despair.

Her struggle with alcoholism hit a low point in her late 40s, she said, recounting an incident in which she seriously considered using the gun in her husband’s truck to kill herself. A short while later, during a family get-together in Wyoming, she confided to her famous big sister that she was hearing voices repeatedly telling her to kill herself.

  • “When I sobered up I didn’t realize how big a favor I was doing for myself.”

    - Jessie Close

It was then that Glenn Close, who grew up with Jessie and two other siblings in Greenwich, Conn., made sure that Jessie got the proper medical care, including a diagnosis of bipolar disorder that finally connected Jessie with proper medication and treatment.  Eleven years later, Jessie credits her newfound happiness to her medication and her passion for inspiring others with her story. More than that, she said, she credits her recovery to her three children, especially her grown son Calen, who also is successfully living with a diagnosed mental health disorder.

“When I sobered up I didn’t realize how big a favor I was doing for myself,” Jessie said. Since that time, Glenn Close has called public attention to the issue by creating a non-profit organization called Bring Change 2 Mind, and Jessie supports the organization’s goals by making numerous appearances each year to share her story and urge others struggling with similar issues to seek help.

After the presentations, Rehmer took written questions from the audience and directed them to the panelists, who included Jennifer Henry, who is successfully living with schizophrenia; Brooke Aker, whose young adult son has been diagnosed with mental illness; and Bridget Marien, a young woman recovering from alcoholism. All of the panelists said events like this were key to helping them cope.

“I think that’s the theme that we’re having, that people in recovery can help people a lot,” Rehmer said.

The forum was part of the National Dialogue on Mental Health that was created in the aftermath of the tragedy at Sandy Hook and is meant to continue the conversation about mental health issues in local communities. The forum marked the 20th National Dialogue event that the Behavioral Health Network has hosted over the past three years.