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The True No Spin Zone

Chances are, whether you live in Maryland or not, you probably heard about the shooting this past weekend at the Columbia Mall. Sadly, this is beginning to sound “old hat.” Some might claim it “all started” with the Columbine shooting…and then the BATMAN movie theater shooting…and the massacre at Sandy Hook…the airport shooting that claimed the life of a TSA agent...and these are just the ones that come immediately to mind. There are, sadly, many others.
Going back to Columbine, the first reaction was, “it’s because of the guns.” Filmmaker Michael Moore got a lot of national attention for his documentary, “BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE,” which focused on the ease with which one may procure guns in this country. Little if anything was said about mental illness.
Now that appears to be our focus. And rightfully so. Mental illness continues to be that last major taboo in society, the one thing we don’t want to talk about, and if you do talk about it, people wonder whether it is because there’s something mentally wrong with YOU.
I could get flippant here and say, any nation that makes Justin Bieber and Honey Boo-Boo stars is clearly one where mental illness is RAMPANT… and that actually makes make sense…because it seems that the way we Americans first try and get-a-little-closer to embarrassing or troubling subjects is via comedy. And maybe that’s okay…if it gets people talking about it, sends the message that this is something that is permissible to openly discuss.
Then, in what turned out to be an incredibly timely bit of program scheduling given the mall shooting, 60 MINUTES aired a segment last night ( the story of Creigh Deeds and how his son, Gus, decided one day that his father was “evil and had to be killed” and attacked him with a knife. The story shows how Mr. Deeds had tried in vain to find psychiatric care for his son, but was unable to do so. Gus would eventually take his own life. As reporter Scott Pelley explained, when the “asylums” for the mentally ill started closing down in the 1950s with care being “turned over to the community,” nothing was done to create a new system in the community to deal with patients.
I can attest to this. When I was 28 (1991), I dealt with a debilitating attack of anxiety and depression that sent me scampering to find psychiatric care. I was in so much mental anguish, I felt I could barely go on…and was told, again and again, it would be weeks or months before anyone could see me…all the while dealing with pain that seemed impossible to withstand for another hour, much less a week or a month.
I was fortunate. I eventually found care, was diagnosed and began medication and have done well ever since.
This isn’t an easy admission, but one that I make because I understand, as most PR people do, how human beings think.
The more we talk about something, the more people come forward to tell their stories, the less “scary” an issue becomes. Not that long ago, for instance, women would say it was unthinkable to talk about breast cancer in public. Of course today, we talk about it all the time, have fundraisers and benefit 5K races, and so forth.
According to the National Institute for Mental Health ( , “Mental disorders are common in the United States and internationally. An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. When applied to the 2004 U.S. Census residential population estimate for ages 18 and older, this figure translates to 57.7 million people.”
So, hardly a small problem, not something most of us can say, “Well, doesn’t impact that many, so maybe not that important.”
I like to say, if you tell someone you’ve never been to a doctor or dentist in your whole life, people will think it odd…but say you’ve never seen a psychiatrist or a psychologist and the attitude is, well, we should hope not! Doesn’t our MENTAL health deserve as much care and maintenance as our PHYSICAL health…particularly since more and more research is showing how these two are connected? Depression, anxiety, can take a tremendous physical toll.
In any event, my point is, there are some topics which should not be “spun,” glossed over, played down, played up, or in any way, played. Some issues stand on their own merits. Finding ways to provide better access to care for the mentally ill, for their friends, family, co-workers…well, pretty much everybody—is just right.
So, what’s our strategy? Our strategy is simple.
Talk about it. With friends, family, co-workers. On social media. And regular media. I’m lucky that I work in a field that gives me access to many journalists, bloggers, freelancers, producers, and as a result, I’ve been able to do a myriad of interviews with print and broadcast media about dealing with depression and mental illness.
It’s like that 80’s shampoo commercial (and here it is with Heather Locklear of all people, where you “tell two friends…and they told two friends…and so on…and so on…and so on.” And when it becomes something we’re not afraid to talk about, it can become something we are not afraid to DO something about. And that’s one to grow on.

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