Glenn Close urges Congress to pass mental health bill

Academy Award-winning actress Glenn Close watches as Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman speaks about the need to expand access to mental health care services in the U.S. during a news conference on Capitol Hill Wednesday. Close is advocating for passage of a bill that would expand crisis intervention and provide law enforcement more tools when working with those who need psychiatric care. (WTOP/Dick Uliano)

WASHINGTON – A congressional bill that would broadly expand mental health services across the country is getting some high-wattage Hollywood backing.

Nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Actress, Glenn Close is joining hands with Senate sponsors of the “Excellence in Mental Health Act.”

Close explains that her family has been touched by mental illness.

“My sister came up to me, about four years ago, and said ‘I need your help, I can’t stop help thinking about killing myself’,” Close says. Her sister was diagnosed bipolar at the age of 50.

“Mental illness is a family affair,” Close adds.

The star of films including “Fatal Attraction” and the FX TV channel series “Damages” laments that mental illness still carries a stigma.

“It’s incredible to me that it’s still so, so difficult for people to talk about it. And so our passion is to make mental illness as easy to talk about as diabetes or cancer,” Close says.

Close is urging Congress to pass the bill that would increase community mental health services and the availability of crisis intervention.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., would cost $1.6 billion dollars over 10 years and establish a 10-state demonstration program offering a broad range of mental health services including 24-hour psychiatric care.

The measure also has the backing of veterans groups and law enforcement agencies.

“Our members, this year and in previous years, have continuously told us that this is (mental illness) one of the biggest problems facing the veteran community,” says Alexander Nicholson, legislative director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

“The jails unfortunately are a place where many people with mental health issues end up. In fact we have about 20 percent of our jail population has diagnosed mental health issues.” says Loudon County Sheriff Mike Chapman.

Chapman says the bill would provide local law enforcement greater resources for dealing with psychiatric cases.

The bill has cleared the Senate Finance Committee and is not expected to face votes in the Senate or House until February or March.

The Virginia General Assembly is also expected to tackle changes to mental health services this winter after state Sen. Creigh Deeds was stabbed and his son Gus Deeds committed suicide at their Bath County home. The younger Deeds attacked his father after seeking emergency mental health services.

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