May // Mental Health Awareness Month

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"The opposite of love is indifference"

Of the many, many things I've learned this year, mental health awareness is by far the most important. 

Like most people, I was always aware of mental health concerns—I know the basics of Bipolar disorder, I've seen the commercials for depression medication, and read about suicide in books or in the news; however, it's never been a huge concern in my life. The closest I've come to the topic is scrolling through eating disorder recovery accounts on Instagram.

Instagram was my introduction to the terror a brain can unleash on a body. I saw how mental illness can slink in and wreak havoc on a person's health and happiness, tear apart families, destroy a life. 

The reason I'm finally talking about it, is because everyone else is finally talking about it. Mental health issues have been highly stigmatized in the past. They were the topics of scary movies and folktales, but otherwise swept under the rug and not acknowledged. Tell me, how does that help? Yeah, it doesn't. 

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Lately though, I've started to notice a shift in that toxic mindset. People are talking, people are reaching out, raising awareness, telling their own raw stories. At my university there's been multiple efforts to improve mental health. The athletic department launched the campaign #TalkToMe to encourage students to be open about their struggles. They also started a video-challenge to complete a four-person pushup to represent the statistic that one in four people suffer from mental illness. In addition, the Marquette's newspaper, the Wire, is in the midst of a huge project called Break The Silence, including articles, meetings, and speakers to bring awareness and to combat the epidemic of adolescent suicides. 

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On a level much bigger than the university, mental illness is being openly discussed in TV shows like 13 Reasons Why. Now, whether or not the show does a good job of representing depression and suicide, (many people are firmly in the "NO" camp) maybe any publicity is good publicity? Maybe not, but either way the show has definitely brought some serious issues into the public eye and opened up a conversation—which is what is most needed.

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When people feel free to talk about their struggles without judgement, it is empowering. When people feel listened to, when their feelings are validated, they are more likely to seek help. This social shift can save lives. That's how important this is. 

A word about mental illness—

Mental illness is NOT a body type. It is not a bad day, or eating your m&m's in order of the rainbow. It's not "oh she's just antisocial" or "he just wants attention." It is an illness just like a sinus infection, just like arthritis, just like cancer; and it deserves to be treated as so. 

A chemical imbalance in the brain (the cause of many mental illnesses) cannot be healed by advice alone. No matter how well-meaning the delivery is of your "just look on the bright side" or "just try to eat normally," it's not helpful. Please keep it to yourself. 

Mental illness needs to be acknowledged and fought against, and awareness is the first step. I hope this post encourages you to do some research, donate to the cause, volunteer, or just make an effort to be more understanding. I hope we as a society are on the path to ending the stigma that shrouds mental illness, and I hope that we make strides this month to support everyone that it touches. 

Skype session with Anders Fjellberg

If journalists can't make a difference with their work, then they have no purpose. This is a thought that I think all writers have to wrestle with at some point, because—at least for me—a main draw to writing is the opportunity to influence change. 

My journalism class recently was able to Skype with the brilliant Norwegian journalist Anders Fjellberg about his long-form feature story, The Wetsuit Man (Link). The story itself is fascinating, but it was even more incredible to learn the background of how it unfolded; the published work is only the tip of the iceberg. 

Fjellberg is a great journalistic role model, and I look up to him obviously for his writing skills and successful career, but also his philosophy and life outlook (well, what little I could gather from an hour of watching him talk on a screen). He said, "A lot of successful journalism depends on luck, but a great journalist has to create the circumstances to be lucky." That means reaching out to that extra source, making a few more phone calls, always going the extra few inches. It may result in nothing nine times out of ten, but that one time could be an extraordinary discovery. I love that he said that, because I could always use reminding that stories and reporting are ultimately as good as the effort you put into them.

Fjellberg also explained why he structured the story the way he did. The mystery and foreboding he created with vivid descriptions and short scenes was a strong hook, but served another purpose as well. The Wetsuit Man is ultimately a story about refugees from the middle east, but that realization sort of sneaks up on readers, so it's hard to recognize it until the end of the story. As Fjellberg said, "it's a refugee story that doesn't look like one from the outside." The Wetsuit Man is different from the typical refugee story in that it has an element of mystery that draws readers in, and gradually incorporates the narrative of the refugees and their families, expertly illustrating the sadness, hope, and dire circumstances that drove the men to such a drastic acts. And to conclude, the story of the investigation, aftermath, and impact on their families. 

I asked Fjellberg if he thought more stories like this one would make refugees more accepted, or if people read a story from the point of view of a refugee they would sympathize more, offer more help. He said he has to believe so, because otherwise his work would have no purpose. He said he has to stay optimistic and hopeful for the future, because otherwise nothing will change. 

 

Global News Relay Reflection

Last week, 17 journalism classes from Fresno to Beijing teamed up to deliver the latest from their corner of the world. Classes divided into groups and created short videos to tell their stories. The project is centered around something called solution journalism, which means each story was about making a positive change in the community. 

The link to the entire newscast is here, but if you don't have six hours set aside to watch the whole thing, Marquette's section starts at 2:14:05.  

As you can see from the video, my group covered a Midnight Run outing to St. Ben's, where people gather for a free meal, warmth, and company. Although I always get nervous for interviews, I had a wonderful time meeting the visitors and volunteers at St. Ben's and left with a good feeling about the Milwaukee community. 

This project taught me and my group members about working under tight deadlines. Because we are all so busy with other activities, the video was a huge challenge to finish within five days, but we pulled it off and had fun doing it. I think we all have good reporting skills and were able to conduct interviews with professionalism as well as friendliness. What did pose a challenge for us was the video editing process, because all of us are pretty inexperienced in that area. However, it was good practice and I think we all learned some new skills that will continue to develop throughout the rest of our time at Marquette.

One of the videos I watched came from the University of West England featuring an organization started with the intent to provide warm clothes to the homeless in Bristol. Right from the start it struck me how professional the video was, with smooth transitions, quality camera-work, and voiced-over narration. Some of the quotes from the source were really heartwarming and hopeful, though the use of only one source was unusual; I would've liked to hear from a few different voices. 

My favorite thing about UWE's first video was the similarities it showed to my group's project. Both were about efforts to help the homeless and less fortunate people in the community. Further, both Coats and Jackets Bristol and St. Ben's are trying to bridge the gap between different groups of people, and work towards a better future by offering kindness, respect, and a helping hand to anyone in need.