Thursday, April 28, 2011

NAMI and the Pulitzer Prize

by Bob Carolla, NAMI director of media relations

I sometimes get asked what I do for a living: what does "media relations" mean? Basically, it means trying to help reporters-print, television, radio or the Internet-and pitching NAMI news or messages.

It can be as simple as answering a question in less than 60 seconds over the phone. Or it may involve suggesting a topic and then working for several months with a reporter: helping to dig out information, arrange interviews and suggest angles. At the same time, as a matter of professional ethics, there's still an arms-length relationship. No promises are made that a story will be one that emphasizes NAMI's point of view or even that NAMI will be mentioned. Satisfaction comes mostly through helping to inform and shape a story and through it contribute to public education about mental illness and the issues that affect us.

There's also the satisfaction of seeing reporters or writers with whom NAMI has worked and respects grow in their careers-and win honors in their own right. That's the case this year with the recent announcement of Pulitzer Prizes, among the highest awards for excellence in journalism and arts.

One of this year's honorees is Clifford Levy of the New York Times for International Reporting on Russia's justice system. What's the connection to NAMI and mental illness? In 2003, Levy also won the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting in a series on the abuse of people living with mental illness in "adult homes." In fact, NAMI helped spark the investigation.

NAMI had previously honored Levy in 2001 with an award for his accurate, balanced and compassionate reporting. That same year, NAMI honored Alex Raksin of the Los Angeles Times with an award for editorial writing. In 2002, Raksin, like Levy a year later, won the Pulitzer Prize.

Although Levy won the prize in International Reporting this year, one of the finalists in the category was Deborah Sontag of the New York Times whose reporting on the 2010 earthquake in Haiti was praised for "steadfastly telling poignant, wide-ranging stories with a lyrical touch and an impressive eye for detail." Since the publication of NAMI's special report on state mental health budget cuts in March, we have been working with her on a story about one state in particular state. There are no promises, but keep an eye out for it in weeks ahead.

Finally, the winner of this year's Pulitzer Prize in Fiction is Jennifer Egan for the novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, "an inventive investigation of growing up and growing old in the digital age, displaying a big-hearted curiosity about cultural change at warp speed."

HBO also has announced that it has purchased the rights to turn the book into a TV series.

What's Egan's NAMI connection?

In 2008, she published a non-fiction cover story in The New York Times Magazine, "The Bipolar Puzzle," which NAMI honored at its 2009 national convention. She received a standing ovation.

Professional ethics allow for professional respect. NAMI can maintain its arms-length relationship with reporters while still acknowledging their skill and hard work in trying to get their stories right.

NAMI congratulates these and the other 2011 Pulitzer Prize winning journalists.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hope for Youth With Mental Illness at School

by Dana Markey
Program Manager, NAMI Child and Adolescent Action Center

When youth experience a psychiatric crisis in your school or community,
  • Who is involved?
  • What services and supports exist for these youth and their families and for those who respond to them?
  • How do you ensure these youth receive the help they need to prevent crises in the future?
For communities across the country, these questions can be difficult to answer. Oftentimes, the process for effectively addressing the needs of youth experiencing a psychiatric crisis is ambiguous at best-school professionals, law enforcement officers, mental health providers and most of all, families struggle to do the right thing but do not necessarily know how to work together to make sure the right thing happens.

Instead of receiving help, far too many of these youth are landing in the juvenile justice system. This happens because there is a lack of crisis intervention services in schools and communities. All too often, the opportunity to intervene with these youth is lost-resulting in poor outcomes.

The Value of Community Partnerships

Fortunately, there is another way. With effective community partnerships, communities can responsibly support youth living with mental illness and their families. Community partnerships allow us all to think big and to hope for cost-effective answers to difficult questions.

In this spirit of hope, we at NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, are working with communities in Illinois, Louisiana and Utah to expand and deepen the scope of Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) to focus on the needs of youth living with mental illness and their families. CIT is a model program that brings together community partners to make sure that individuals with mental illness who are at risk for encounters with law enforcement and the justice system are directed to appropriate mental health services and supports.

CIT for Youth provides training to law enforcement officers on preventing a mental health crisis and de-escalating a crisis when it occurs. However, CIT for Youth is more than just a training program. It is a dynamic partnership of families, law enforcement officers, school personnel, mental health providers and other community leaders committed to ensuring youth living with mental illness are referred to appropriate mental health services and supports rather than thrust into the courts and juvenile justice system.

With these partnerships in place, we can identify youth living with mental illness before they get entangled with the juvenile justice system, before they fail or drop out of school and before they develop a more difficult-to-treat, chronic condition.

NAMI plans to share everything we learn from this project this summer with the release of a step-by-step, hands-on workbook that will include real-life stories and materials from these communities. The goal of this project and workbook is to promote the replication of CIT for Youth in communities across the country.

Become a Partner

Serious mental illness impacts large numbers of our youth. Recent research indicates that 13 percent of youth aged 8-15 live with mental illness. This figure jumps to 21 percent in youth aged 13-18.  Instead of receiving help for their conditions, far too many youth living with mental illness are landing in the juvenile justice system. In working on this guide, I am reminded of the need for solutions to address this problem as well as the value of community partnerships. We are each a part of our community and we have the opportunity to join and support others in offering help and hope to our youth.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Celebrity Mental Illness: Confronting the Social Stereotypes

By Katrina Gay
NAMI Director of Communications

When actress Catherine Zeta-Jones revealed that she lives with bipolar II disorder and received mental health treatment for her illness, the Academy Award-winner suddenly became the focus and discussion of many Americans. As a result, many people began asking questions about mental illness and bipolar disorder specifically.

On NAMI's Facebook page, in discussion groups and through the media, we found ourselves participating in a larger discussion about what it means when a public figure is suddenly in the mental health spotlight.

By being honest and transparent about getting help, Zeta-Jones makes us confront the social stereotypes we consciously, or subconsciously, carry about mental illness and individuals. It also helps enlighten America's understanding of an illness that is prevalent and often so misunderstood.

NAMI received several calls from the media seeking a response. What did we think about this news? Did we see this as an opportunity? Did we have any concerns? The response to this was an easy one. True to the essence of NAMI as both an organization and a movement is the story of each individual and each family. Through the sharing of our stories, we are able to change the hearts and minds of the American public, to offer help and hope to those in need. Whenever anyone-a neighbor, co-worker or a celebrity-shares his or her experience and models self-care, mental illness becomes like any other human condition. Some are invited to challenge their previous misconceptions, others are encouraged to seek help for their own conditions and families are encouraged to heal what, for some, are hidden wounds of shame that may have been unfairly imposed upon them by an community that is unable to understand.

The latest research suggests that less than one-half of people living with bipolar disorder receive mental health treatment. By graciously sharing her openness about taking care of herself, Zeta-Jones serves as an example for others and inspires many to step out of the shadows, confronting their own barriers to treatment and seeking both help and understanding.