“This is where the misconceptions stop. This is where bias comes to an end. This is where we change lives.”
These lines express the mission of BringChange2Mind, founded by Fountain House, a program in New York City that assists people who have mental illness, and the actress Glenn Close, whose sister Jessie suffers from bipolar disorder. The website provides information and guidance to patients with mental illness and their families. Here’s a moving conversation with the Close sisters from Good Morning America: Glenn Close Speaks Out on Mental Illness.
The only connection I ever previously made between Glenn Close and mental illness was Fatal Attraction, her 1978 film. In my research about borderline personality disorder, I encountered many references to her character Alex Forrest. Alex often serves as the poster child for BPD, a kind of shorthand. You know, somebody who’s terrified of abandonment and will do anything to prevent it? Just like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction!
Murderous and profoundly unsympathetic — she kills a bunny! — Alex Forrest is the very definition of “stigma.” Close owns up to this, at least regarding the movie’s ending, in this Huffington Post article. The actress is not responsible, of course, for the script or Adrian Lyne’s direction, nor for the decision to kill Alex off at the end. She’s guilty only of giving a memorably scary performance. And now she’s doing something meaningful to counteract the stereotypes we have of people with illnesses like Alex’s.
It interests me, though, that the website does not mention borderline personality but focuses instead on depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorder. (On Facebook, the organization does have a discussion page, titled Forgiveness and BPD, on which I’ve posted.)
As I point out in my memoir Missing: Coming to Terms with a Borderline Mother, current statistics show that far more people suffer from BPD than more familiar mental illnesses. Estimates suggest that about 2%-6% of the U.S. population and about 20% of those hospitalized for mental illness have BPD. This is, conservatively, twice the number of diagnosed schizophrenics and about the same number of people with Alzheimer’s. At the same time, far fewer people know about BPD, and for those that do, the disorder carries a profound stigma.
I had no intention of de-stigmatizing BPD when I began writing about my mom. If anything, I was at first venting anger. But in the process of writing about the disorder and the suffering it entails, empathy and compassion began to make a dent in that anger. More education and information about BPD can counter the popular stereotypes and de-stigmatize this widespread and destructive illness.