I knew writing about my journey through New Hampshire's mental health system would be therapeutic. What I didn't know is whether I should publish it and, if I did, what the response would be.
On the day I was laying out the Dec. 26 front page that featured the first installment of the three-part series, our publisher, Adam Hirshan, sidled up to me and asked if I was having any second thoughts.
“Oh yeah,” I said with a nervous laugh.
The reaction to the series was nothing short of humbling, and I am grateful to everyone who has reached out in the past week.
My inbox started to fill up almost as soon as the paper hit the streets the day after Christmas.
I heard from policymakers, legislators, educators and nurses in the mental health field. I heard from friends, strangers, co-workers and former colleagues.
I received several messages from parents who told me about their children struggling with mental health issues. I also heard from mothers whose children committed suicide, which brought to mind a depth of anguish I can't imagine and pray I never have to experience.
One friend struck a nerve when she sent me a message about being in class with me in fifth grade: “I remember looking at you and wondering what you were so angry about, you never smiled, but I knew then you were very smart.”
Funny, I thought I was invisible in fifth grade.
Between emails, texts, Facebook, Twitter and phone calls, I received close to a hundred messages, not one of them critical of our decision to publish the series.
The words I heard most often were “brave,” and “courageous.”
If others see me that way for telling my story, I am grateful, but I don't see myself that way, for a couple of reasons.
First, I am surrounded by a family and circle of friends whose love empowers me to step outside my comfort zone sometimes.
I am also fortunate to work with a publisher and colleagues who do the same. I doubt that every employer would be as supportive as Adam Hirshan and Ed Engler, but their reaction could serve as a model for how businesses everywhere should respond when one of their employees has a mental health crisis.
If I did anything that merits the term “courageous,” it was making the decision to enter inpatient treatment after weeks of outpatient therapy. Taking that next step required me to set aside my fear of the prejudices surrounding mental health care and my fear of the unknown. Writing about it paled in comparison to that.
I am also keenly aware that my story is not everybody's story, and going through the mental health system doesn't make me an expert on the topic. It did, however, give me an appreciation for the people who work to make the system work. The nurses, nurse practitioners, aides and doctors I encountered were incredibly caring and competent, in my experience. That I had conflicts with some of them doesn't at all diminish the respect I have for their professionalism. The fact that I clashed with some of them probably says more about me and my state of mind at the time than it does about them.
Several readers suggested the series be distributed across the state, and that has happened, thanks to a new venture called the Granite State News Collaborative. The collaborative — funded by a grant from the Solutions Journalism Network — distributed it as part of a project called Granite Solutions. The series was picked up by the Concord Monitor, the New Hampshire Union Leader, and Foster's Daily Democrat in Dover, among other outlets. The collaborative is a consortium of several news organizations, and while my series marked the launch of the collaborative's work, other Granite Solutions stories will be forthcoming in the coming months, and I encourage you to look for them. The fact that I had the support of those respected colleagues within my profession was also empowering.
I am not the first New Hampshire journalist to write about my own mental health struggles. Annmarie Timmons blazed that trail in 2013 when she wrote for the Concord Monitor about her own battles. She not only did it first, I think she did it better. https://www.concordmonitor.com/Archive/2013/03/MentalHealth-cmview-031713
Some of our objectives were much the same, I suspect — to raise awareness about and break through the prejudices surrounding mental health treatment in hopes that people will feel comfortable reaching out for the help they need. We could have the greatest mental health care system in the world, but what good is that if people don't access it because they fear what others might think?