As a journalist, I’m not usually the subject of stories myself.
I’m the person behind the microphone, camera and headphones who asks questions, aiming to highlight other people’s personal stories and experiences, good or bad.
On some days, the job involves not having much of a choice what you report on. News conferences, government announcements, breaking news — they all need to be covered to inform you, the audience, about what’s going on in Newfoundland and Labrador.
On other days, reporters get a chance to cover stories they burn for. Things that really matter to them, voices that need to be amplified, issues they believe should be highlighted.
For me, that’s mental health and mental illness.
Every year, 20 per cent of Canadians, or one in five, develop a mental illness or experience mental health struggles — a frequently used number that is important to reiterate.
It means that when you get together with family during the holidays, there is likely at least one person present who is affected.
I’m no stranger to mental illness, either, as I’ve seen people struggle — family members, friends, classmates, acquaintances, coworkers.
Their stories motivated me to make sure that society understands that having a mental illness is just as valid and acceptable as having diabetes, cancer or arthritis.
It’s become much more acceptable to speak of anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. But what about bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder or schizophrenia?
While much positive change has been made and younger generations especially are more open about their struggles, so much work to increase awareness and support systems remains to be done.
Many misconceptions persist and help isn’t always as readily available as it should be — long wait-lists for mental health services, increased suicide rates or a lack of services are only some of the elements I’ve tried to highlight in the past year.
As a journalist, I have an opportunity to tell those stories, so that we as a society continue moving in the right direction. If I don’t use my job to effect some positive change, why do I even do it?
And so, I try to give the statistics mentioned above a name and a face, so people can relate better and understand what a mental illness or mental health struggle feel like.
When I heard that I had won this year’s Media Award by the provincial branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, I was overwhelmed — not because I do what I do to get recognition for it but because it meant that, at least for some people, my stories have meant change, awareness or the feeling of being heard.
“In recognition of outstanding quality coverage of mental health issues in Newfoundland and Labrador” is engraved into the glass award.
I can’t help but feel that there would be no award decorating my messy desk if it weren’t for all the people who opened up to me and trusted me with their stories.
I’m just the person who puts it on paper.
Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador
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