In most states, care for those with behavioral health problems is so poor that the nation’s prisons have become the default treatment centers for many of the most vulnerable mental health patients. As Congress wrestles with plans to cut funding for Medicaid, many observers are calling for more coverage.
For an example of a mental health system that relies on state prisons, see the work of Taylor Knopf, a reporter for North Carolina Health News. In the spring of 2015, Knopf was working for the Raleigh News & Observer when an editor asked her to write a news brief about an effort to improve the state’s use of solitary confinement. Seeing an opportunity, Knopf made a few calls and did more than write a brief: Over the next year, she turned that assignment into a two-part series on how the prison system used solitary confinement to discipline inmates for even minor infractions.
In a new “How I Did It” article, Knopf writes about the series and how her reporting focused on one inmate’s struggle to adjust to life outside of prison after being held in solitary confinement for almost three years. Continue reading
One of the sessions featured at Health Journalism 2017 in Orlando explored the intersection of the criminal justice system and mental illness in the United States from various angles. This Storify includes tweets from multiple attendees at the session – along with quite a number of leads for story ideas.
A fair amount of the session was unfortunately unsurprising in revealing how the justice system has become one of the nation’s biggest mental health care providers (if not the largest), but hearing about the sheer scale of the problem was nonetheless enlightening and disturbing. This topic area is rich with potential story ideas that are woefully undercovered and underappreciated. Continue reading
Jaclyn Cosgrove, a health writer at The Oklahoman in Oklahoma City, was sorting through jail inspection reports from the state when something struck her about a significant number of them.
They were not just run-of-the-mill prisoners. Their health problems, particularly mental illness, were pervasive and hard to ignore. Instead of receiving health care from medical providers and institutions in their communities, scores of Oklahomans – particularly those with mental illnesses – had been incarcerated and were now relying on the criminal justice system to receive care. Continue reading
A lot has been made of mapping health care lately, from states and counties to ZIP codes and income. But take a step back, and a lot of the issues facing health care writers and policymakers are part of the nation’s larger rural-urban divide.
The Association for Health Care Journalists is offering a chance on June 19 for health writers to explore what is happening in America’s less populated areas as well as the emerging trends at its Rural Health Journalism Workshop. Continue reading
Since the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., many of us have had to report on mental illness and found ourselves wrestling with what we know and, more often, don’t know about its causes and effects. Psychiatrists on AHCJ’s “Redefining Mental Disorders” panel on Friday pointed to reasons why we know so little. But they also shared signs of hope that better insights for doctors and patients lie ahead.
Diagnosis needs more precision
Part of what limits our ability to understand a psychiatric disorder – like schizophrenia, or autism – is the difficulty of diagnosis, says Paul Summergrad, M.D., who heads the Department of Psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine and Tufts Medical Center (and also is president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association). Doctors can identify the clinical signs of a disorder, but still know very little about the underlying cause, or pathophysiology. Plus, what’s “mental” about a mental illness isn’t always clear. Summergrad says more precise diagnoses might do more than help doctors find better treatments; they might help reporters combat stigma. He urges journalists to go beyond the recently released Associated Press guidelines for covering mental illness by identifying the specific disorder a person has. Continue reading