The stigma that still surround mental illness and drug addiction, especially in rural areas, are major obstacles to addressing those issues. Rural news media can play an important role in reducing stigma and helping individuals and communities face up to their problems and deal with them.
The Paducah Sun saw that opportunity when a 13-year-old eighth grader with a long list of mental-health issues told nearly 100 attendees at the West Kentucky Health and Wellness Summit about her condition and its stigma.
Julia Burkhart has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, general anxiety disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but “When she walks down the hall, you wouldn’t know her from any other student,” David B. Snow reported for the Sun: “There are no identifying marks or signs on her to indicate she has mental illness. The problem is the signs placed on her by other people.
“At the meeting in Paducah, Julia said her problems began with bullying in kindergarten, which became so bad in fifth grade, with social-media attacks and rumors that something was “wrong” with her, that she started cutting herself. She changed schools and got better, but recently relapsed into eating disorders and taking pills “to escape,” she said. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia and went back into the outpatient program at the beginning of this school year, Snow reports.
“I graduated in February from outpatient, and I’ve been continuing to better myself,” Julia told the crowd. “And here I am now, speaking about my problems. I take pride in my recovery every day, and I am proud to have gone through this. It’s made me realize what’s really important.” And she spoke because she wanted to; her mother was originally invited to share the family’s story.
Snow wrote that Julia’s experience is common among people with mental illness. Dr. Laurie Ballew, a psychiatrist and medical director of behavioral health at Lourdes Hospital, told him, “People have this negative thought process about mental health, not realizing that our brain is the organ that controls our body.”
Snow’s story is a remarkable example of how news media can reduce or eliminate the stigma that surround issues of behavioral health. We excerpted it on The Rural Blog at https://bit.ly/2kffwII.
Rural resentment reverberates
A resentment of coastal elites is a key to the support that President Trump still enjoys in parts of the country that abandoned their usual Democratic allegiances for him in 2016. That’s a thread that runs through three recent in-depth reports: one by a Democratic pollster, one by The Washington Post’s chief political reporter, and the other by a conservative journalist who was one of the leaders in defining the who and why of Trump voters before the election. We boiled them down on The Rural Blog at https://bit.ly/2kdupLK.
The reports came from pollster Stan Greenberg, on voters in suburban Macomb County, Michigan; the Post’s Dan Balz, who reported from rural counties along and near the upper Mississippi River; and Salena Zito, who with Republican operative Brad Todd wrote The Great Revolt, a new book based on “10 counties they studied across the five states that tipped the election to Trump, as the Post’s James Hohman describes it in the paper’s “Daily 202.”
Here’s what Michael Martin of Erie, Pa., told the book authors: “Live in a small or medium-sized town, and you would think we were dragging the country down. We aren’t a country just made up of large metropolitan areas. Our politics and our culture up until now has dictated that we are less than in the scale of importance and value.” That is reflected in much of the national news media, based mainly on the East Coast, and resentment of media portrayals is a big part of the attitudes of rural voters, who gave at least 62 percent of their votes to Trump, a record.
Zito and Todd note “a polarization between those who live in dense cosmopolitan communities with higher-than-average education levels and those who live in rural, exurban and industrial locales that, as a rule, have . . . lower-than-average education levels and less transience.” Four of the 10 counties where they did interviews are rural; evangelical voters are represented largely by rural Howard County, Iowa, where Obama got 62 and 59 percent of the vote and Trump got 58.
Greenberg has long studied “Reagan Democrats” in Macomb County, which went for Barack Obama twice and then for Trump. “Trump voters complain that there is no respect for President Trump or for people like them who voted for him,” Greenberg wrote in a memo with Nancy Zdunkewicz of Democracy Corps. “A healthy diet of Fox News is feeding the white working-class men fending off the challenges of Trump’s opponents,” they write. “They continue to appreciate how he speaks his mind.”
Balz’s report, in a special section of the Post, was illustrated by a map that also showed how reliably Republican the rural vote has become. Balz interviewed some of the same people for more than a year, tracking how attitudes about Trump shifted gradually.”
You can read Balz’s piece or our Rural Blog item for details. I mention these stories because anyone can do them; it’s just a matter of going out and talking to people. The more you talk with, the better your questions will be, and the better your stories will be. If you so such stories, or report or see news that should be on The Rural Blog, email me at [email protected].