Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A New Language for Mental Illness - Jane Pauley

I didn't know she had been diagnosed with bi-polar - interesting to hear her perspective on her illness.

Jane Pauley
Museum of Broadcast Communications: Pauley profile

About the Lecture
Mental illness needs a “new narrative,” says Jane Pauley. Just as cancer has moved from the shadows to pink ribbons and races for the cure, mental illness must shed its public aura of fear and shame. “Shrewd move; let’s do that,” says Pauley.

In a revealing and self-effacing talk, Pauley describes her own passage a decade ago from poster girl for NBC News to psychiatric patient. At 50, she was well aware of her reputation: “I could make no credible claim to being the best, hardest working, most beautiful in the industry. But honest, I owned normal. Or I thought I did.” So the “bombshell diagnosis” of bipolar disorder, brought on by steroid treatment for hives, and antidepressants, rocked her world.

It was a long struggle to crawl back from “the dark precipice of mental illness,” which included a period of hospitalization. And it did not help that her doctor was shocked that Pauley, who was writing an autobiography, wanted to discuss her condition in the book. In spite of such anguish and anxiety, Pauley says she “had hope” even from the beginning. Medicine helped, but Pauley also credits the capacity to open up about her situation with family and increasingly, in public forums. “When I’m heard talking comfortably about mental illness, as comfortably as talking about triple bypass surgery, I think I’m helping normalize mental illness. Normalizing is a much better word than destigmatizing. Change vocabulary, narrative; change minds, save lives,” she says.

Today Pauley sees a shift in how people regard mental illness, a new candor. Her own kids call her “crazy woman.” Knowledge is the antidote to fear, she believes, and work “demystifying the brain is a step toward destigmatizing mental illness.” Her personal goal, she concludes, is to “banish ugly, out-of-date attitudes” and replace them with “new neural connections, positive associations. As they say, consciousness once raised cannot easily be lowered again.”

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