A journalist’s duty, at the minimum, is to hold those with power accountable and to be a voice for the voiceless.
And we must do all of this, of course, with a fierce commitment to maintaining our editorial independence.
When I launched Think Media more than two years ago, I spent some time considering how well I had been true to these two journalistic imperatives since I became a full time journalist in 1998.
The result of such introspection was a commitment to produce one or two projects about a vulnerable group annually in order to highlight challenges and successes, investigate any systemic issues, raise awareness and engage the community in sustained discussion over a period of months.
So… its time to talk mental health. Its time to face mental health – put faces to the discussion around mental health challenges and address, explore and confront its many facets.
We have no idea how well Facing Mental Health will be received. One thing we are sure of is that we want to privilege the voices of those living with mental health conditions.
We want to create a platform for them because no one else has, and because what is now a strong minority is a demographic that could include every single one of us.
Every single resident – young or old, black or white, rich or poor – could potentially be faced with mental health challenges.
By hearing directly from those who cope with mental health challenges we hope to begin and sustain a conversation about how society accommodates our most vulnerable citizens. We hope that through this work Bermuda can start facing mental health more positively and productively.
We are certain that many of us will recognize in their stories, stories of our friends, relatives and colleagues. Some of us will recognize situations in our own lives.
And we hope that some of you at least would be motivated to act toward ending the stigma and discrimination that all too often make it even more difficult for those facing mental health challenges to live a productive life.
We are grateful to Michael Hanson, former chair of the Human Rights Commission, whose passionate plea for long overdue mental health anti-discrimination laws, sparked the idea for this initiative.
But we are most grateful to those who agreed to tell their very personal stories, without fear, in a society which discriminates on the grounds of difference.
And we should all be thankful that Bermuda’s lawmakers have finally outlawed discrimination on the grounds of mental health.
But the need for reform cannot end there. Some of the persons we will feature in this series are finding ways to successfully cope with their challenges. Many others have been failed by the system and we aim to explore and investigate these systemic failures.
Finally, we spent many months seeking support for this series, and are pleased to have found a production sponsor in the Bermuda Mental Health Foundation, and a media partner in Inter-Island Communications.
Facing Mental Health – the process
After conducting considerable preliminary research to establish the ideal scope and approach we decided that our project would be dominated by the voices of those who live with mental health challenges.
We then spent several more months seeking out possible participants, speaking with experts, identifying the ethical issues and made some decisions about how the project would be presented.
A key challenge we identified at the outset was surmounting the barrier of stigma and prejudice surrounding mental health. There was little point in telling stories that nobody reads or listens to.
Video, of high production values, was one solution and a possible way of bringing people into the conversation. So we set the goal of producing ten videos featuring the stories of individuals who reflected Bermuda’s diversity as well as the diversity of mental health challenges.
These videos would be rolled out as a series and accompanied by textual information on a Think Media website, as part of a journalistic campaign aimed at engaging everyone in Bermuda.
To ensure as wide an audience as possible, we decided we would work closely with other media outlets. Our first such partnership is with Inter Island Communications Magic 102.7 where we will kick off our series every other Wednesday starting on February 22 at 8 a.m.
We’ve already spent considerable resources in the initial stages but have been able to craft with the Bermuda Mental Health Foundation a creative win-win partnership that has helped lessen the financial strain while preserving our editorial independence and ownership of the material.
BMHF’s sponsorship has gone a considerable distance to meeting the costs of producing five videos which form the centerpiece of the first part of our journalistic campaign.
We are, I should say, seeking additional sponsors and there are some other challenges to be surmounted if we are to fully realize our vision.
But BMHF should be commended for taking the risk it took and helping us to model what could be a way forward for independent media.
We are especially pleased that the Foundation respected our editorial independence and at no time exerted any influence on content, casting and approach.
Think Media takes great pride in our journalistic independence – helped in no small way by our steadily growing membership base – regardless of any financial relationship we may negotiate.
So while this project is important for its potential in progressing the conversation about mental health, it also represents a triumph for independent journalism.
We are also pleased that so many people with mental health challenges were willing to come forward and tell their stories. They verified what we knew from our initial research – that there are many, many, issues to be explored and many, many questions to be answered around mental health.
We know it took more than a little courage to sit in front of our cameras and be questioned. And we thank them for lending their voices and refusing to be voiceless.
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