Reporting on Mental Health in a Horrible Economy: Ideas and Resources

Published on
August 21, 2012

Last week's Poynter Institute webinar on covering mental health issues and the recession offered some great story ideas and resources for journalists, bloggers and advocates. Here's a sampling:

1. It's not just about depression. While depression is an obvious symptom of economic woes, Americans have also reported higher rates of generalized anxiety disorder, dysthymia, eating disorders like bulimia, and sleep disorders, psychologist Nancy Molitor told webinar attendees.

2. Addictions of all types are on the rise. Psychologists aren't just seeing more alcohol abuse; they're seeing more patients dependent on attention deficit disorder drugs, diet pills, medication for narcolepsy, and methamphetamine, Molitor said. In addition, more people are reporting problems with gambling: "It's counterintuitive, but poor economies create the perfect storm for people who are vulnerable to this kind of problem," whether they play at casinos or buy Lotto tickets, Molitor said.

3. Ticking biological clocks. Some parents are postponing childbearing because they don't think they can afford it, while women worry that they'll be unable to conceive if they wait too long. How is that playing out in your community?

4. Suicides aren't always about the bad economy. While calls to national suicide prevention hotlines are on the rise since 2008, Molitor warned about leaping to conclusions that suicides are economically driven: "Just because the hard-driving CEO of local power plant killed himself, that doesn't mean it's necessarily related to the economy," she said. ”When people succeed in suicide, they've usually been struggling with depression for years, and had previous suicide attempts."

5. Get creative in finding subjects. Mental health professionals won't give you the names of their patients, but they can identify trends in what people are experiencing in your own community. Try patient support groups, local chapters of Mental Health America or the National Association of the Mentally Ill, faith-based charities, job training centers, even your local church or YMCA to find subjects.

6. With sources, frame your reporting in positive terms. It's easier to get people with mental health issues to open up if you frame the story in terms of "coping with" or "surviving" economic woes, Molitor said. "When you're approaching individuals, you're more likely to get them to talk on the record if you don't use a diagnosis – i.e. label someone. If you use words like stress, that normalizes it, if you focus your article on coping strategies and resilience," that can help make subjects more comfortable, she said. "No question, it takes time, it takes digging, it takes being very sensitive."

Related Content:

Resources for Reporting on the Economy and Mental Health,

States' Mental Health Budgets Fall In Recession, Kaiser Health News

The depressing toll of the Great Recession, Salon