The Inside Story: Covering mental illness

3:47 PM, Feb 24, 2013   |    comments
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KUSA - As you're reading this sentence right now your brain is doing something awesome.

You're breathing without thinking.

You can understand this sentence.

You can recite your mom's cell phone number, remember the day of your first kiss or suddenly recall in a panic you left the iron on at home.

Maybe you're already bored with this article and want something more stimulating.

Or maybe you'll continue on. I hope you do.

100-billion brain cells are working and communicating through signals to create our consciousness, our sense of self and our own interpretation of reality.

With all of those billions and billions and billions of cells, you would think there's a good chance something might go wrong.

Unlike other organs, when the mind is injured or not working well, there's no physical sign that tells us something is not right.

There's no x-ray and there's no visible injury we can target with a bandage.

After covering the case of Richard Lancaster and talking to dozens of people who are struggling, I've realized as a reporter I need to treat mental illness just like any other or sickness or disease.

I spoke with many people over the last couple of weeks about their struggles and trials with mental illness. One of the most common complaints I heard was the stigma.

They accused reporters like me of perpetuating myths about mental illness or dismissing the issue as some minor, insignificant problem.

They are right.

We in the media need to change our tone to try and help erase the stigma so people can get over the embarrassment and get treatment. After all, we are partly to blame.

I've changed the way I've phrased things over the last several months. Instead of saying "so-and-so is mentally ill," I now try to say "so-and-so is suffering with mental illness."

I've also promised myself not to label someone by their condition, like "so-and-so is schizophrenic. "
Would we say Joe Smith is cancerous?

As I said in my broadcast report, unfortunately the only time severe mental illness makes the news is when someone does something violent or there's a crime.

This is why I wanted to show the human side of Lancaster's story by talking to his mother. I can completely understand why she declined to share. She wants to protect her son.

Thankfully Paula Petty, the other mother I met in my report, was brave enough to talk about the struggles her family is facing. She was brave to talk about something so personal and stigmatic.

Scott Glaser, the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness said it best. "People living with mental illness are no more violent than anybody else. In fact, they're more likely to become a victim," he said.

How true.

I heard from DOZENS of people over the last week who've struggled to get help with their mental illness, but because of an over burdened system, they can't get long-term treatment or they can't get good health insurance coverage for therapy or medication.

They are, perhaps, victims of the system who have become prisoners of their own mind.

We can see some of those who have become lost begging on street corners or among bundles of blankets underneath grimy overpasses.

While I can't do much as a reporter to solve problems and fix things, I do hope from here on out I can be more sensitive to the topic and help people understand the human side of the issue.

Hopefully this article has convinced your mind to do the same.


(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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