Tag Archives: mental illness

For N.C. reporter, news brief led to series on solitary confinement, mental illness

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

Photo: Thomas Hawk via Flickr

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

Story ideas revealed in intersection of mental illness, criminal justice system

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

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

Records review prompts long-term project for Oklahoma reporter

About Susan Heavey

Susan Heavey, (@susanheavey) a Washington, D.C.-based journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on social determinants of health and curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on resources and tip sheets at determinants@healthjournalism.org.

Photo: Chris Landsberger, courtesy of The OklahomanAn inmate talks on the phone in the men’s mental health unit at the Oklahoma County Jail.

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

Workshop to offer look at nation’s rural health landscape #ruralhealth15

About Susan Heavey

Susan Heavey, (@susanheavey) a Washington, D.C.-based journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on social determinants of health and curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on resources and tip sheets at determinants@healthjournalism.org.

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

Mental illness: why we know so little #ahcj13

About Kristin Gourlay

Kristin Gourlay is a health journalist at Rhode Island Public Radio. She is attending Health Journalism 2013 on an AHCJ-Rhode Island Health Journalism Fellowship, which is supported by The Rhode Island Foundation.

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

Overcoming cautious officials to tell stories of mental illness

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Many of you will already be familiar with “Mental Breakdown,” the CHCF Center for Health Reporting and Modesto Bee joint effort to illustrate the impact state and county budget cuts have had on people in California diagnosed with mental illnesses. One of the series’ most striking components is multimedia specialist Lauren M. Whaley’s “Faces of Mental Illness,” one of the Bee‘s most-viewed photo galleries of all time. A gallery which, Whaley writes in a must-read post on her blog, “almost didn’t happen.”

screen-shot-2012-06-09-at-62544-pmThe gallery was made up of portraits of men and women from the Stanislaus, Calif., chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, all of whom, Whaley writes were eager to pose, “enthused by the possibility of showing that mentally ill people were regular people, people who could hold jobs, go to school, parent and teach.”

Everything was ready to go, until someone noticed her setup. Every health journalist will be able to guess what happens next.

The county nurse insisted that we call her higher-ups to get permission to take the portraits. She was nervous we were violating a confidentiality agreement that I didn’t know existed.

I needed to get permission to get the participants’ permission.

The implication: These people are incapable of consenting.

Fortunately, thanks to her contacts and editor, this particular showdown had a happy ending.

My editor smoothed things over with the county. We typed up a permission slip so each person I photographed put down in writing that they knew we would publish their portrait in the Modesto Bee and online. They were all perfectly comfortable with the permission slip. They just wanted to know when the story would run. They wanted to know when their pictures would be in the paper, when their story would be told.

And, for a nifty postscript, don’t miss the story’s comment section, where a NAMI official named in the post checks in from her Facebook account to say that she hopes it will help folks “understand how frustrating it is for family members who find it difficult to communicate with mental health professionals.”

Normalizing Mental Illness: One mom’s hope from CAhealthReport on Vimeo.