Editor’s Column: 1 in 4

Last week we learned that we have received another national press award for our coverage of the Daniel Pierce shooting in Rangely last year. We are the recipients of the first-place award for investigative journalism in the National Newspaper Association’s Better Newspaper Contest. 

I’ve been humbled and honored by the recognition that story has received, but it has had a much more personal impact on my life than I expected: a new awareness of the deficiencies in our mental health care system. 

Imagine thinking you’re having a heart attack, calling 911 and getting an answering service, then spending five minutes listening to hold music before you get to talk to a person. We’d be appalled, horrified, traumatized, and even less likely to reach out for help the next time we had a crisis situation. Now imagine going to the emergency room with a suspected broken limb and being sent home because, “there are too many people here, can we make you an appointment next week?” 

Sounds like an impossible scenario, doesn’t it? It’s the reality of many in need of mental health treatment. 

I applaud the people working in the mental health care field. Like our teachers, our nurses, and so many of our other caregivers, they’re working with limited resources, little support for what they do, and too many needs to be met. Simply put, we don’t have enough providers, clinics, hospitals or money invested in mental health care. And really, we all need it, just the same way we all need health care for our physical bodies.  

According to Johns Hopkins, “An estimated 26% of Americans ages 18 and older — about 1 in 4 adults — suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.”

Many times, those mental disorders are accompanied by substance abuse, which brings with it a whole new set of problems. Far too many end in suicide. Mental illness puts a strain on law enforcement, social workers, and the social support network overall. 

For generations we’ve denied, ignored, shamed and tried to hide the reality of mental illness. Nellie the Newshound is named after Nellie Bly, one of the first female journalists in the United States. In the late 1800s, Bly faked insanity to get admitted to a “women’s lunatic asylum” rumored to be mistreating its patients. Her two-part series in Joseph Pulitzer’s “The New York World” prompted lasting reforms at the asylum in the way patients were cared for. It’s also widely considered the beginning of what we now know as investigative journalism.

More than 130 years later, we’re still having to report on a crisis in our country’s mental health care system, while far too many of our friends and family and neighbors succumb to treatable disorders. In my opinion, that means we haven’t made nearly enough progress in this area. We can’t stop talking about it, and we can’t stop advocating for change.