Mental Health in the News: January 28-February 3, 2013

Sports: The Houston Rockets and Royce White reach a long-awaited agreement on a mental health protocol for the player’s contract. White will be allowed to ride a bus to certain games (his anxiety makes plane travel very difficult for him), but will still have him using the doctor provided to him by the team, rather than a psychiatrist of his choice. More on this in a future post. (USA Today)

Music: Lady Gaga, who has built a massive following through both her music and her humanitarian efforts, has taken on youth mental health as her latest cause, and his being praised for the impact of her work. (Rolling Stone)

Television: FOX takes a major step away from self-positivity by reviving plastic surgery reality show The Swan. This time around, celebrity contestants will get medically altered in order to win a chance to compete in a beauty pageant. (Huffington Post)

New Hampshire: “The Merrimack County jail has become the first in the state to give its staff specialized training for handling inmates suffering a mental health crisis,” thanks to the efforts of Superintendent Ron White. In prisons across the country, as many as half of inmates regularly deal with mental health symptoms, and their needs are rarely met. (Concord Monitor)

Connecticut: “Connecticut is moving toward sweeping changes that could include everything from forcing private insurers to offer more mental-health coverage to screening every child in school statewide for emotional or psychological problems.” (Wall Street Journal)

US Military: The United States has increased mental health provisions for its soldiers in Afghanistan, including a team of psychologists available at any time. (The Guardian)

United States: USA Today reports on National Alliance on Mental Illness’ 2009 and 2011 reports on the state of mental health care in the United States. National care received a D grade, with no individual states pulling an A. Analysis of each state is available in the report. (USA Today)

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Story to Watch: American Idol’s Mariah Pulice

On Thursday’s (January 17) episode of that former entertainment juggernaut, American Idol, ­ auditioner Mariah Pulice, 19, of Chicago told the judges, and 16 million viewers, the story of her struggles with anorexia before a lovely performance of, perhaps appropriately, the Beatles classic “Let it Be.”

Mariah Pulice

Mariah’s audition was accompanied by interviews with her sister and parents, who described the emotional changes they had seen Mariah going through, saying that the joy and energy she had always exuded had left her during her darkest period.

According to Pulice, her disorder is something she has to cope with every day, but she’s confident that the worst is behind her. “This eating disorder did not beat me,” she said. “And it will not, it will not beat me.”

Moving stories of mental health are nothing new to the talent show, which last season ran the story of Shelby Tweten, a young woman who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 16. Tweten, like Pulice, impressed and touched the judges, moving on to the Hollywood Round of competition. She was eliminated from American Idol after reaching the top forty, and is now a speaker for Active Minds, a national non-profit devoted to changing the conversation about mental health on college campuses.

There is a certain level of debate about the appropriateness of openly disclosing one’s mental health struggles in an ultra-visible competition setting like American Idol. It’s no secret that a contestant’s personal saga is, to the producers, even more important than their vocal prowess in this early stage of the game. Many viewers criticize this aspect of the show, saying it encourages hopefuls to exploit, even exaggerate, their struggles for better success of the game.

I think we can all somewhat agree that American Idol is more about making compelling television than it is about finding the nation’s best talent these days, so the emphasis on story sort of comes with the territory. As long as that’s the case, I’m grateful that the stories being told are meaningful ones.

While I applaud both Shelby and Mariah for their courage and honesty, I do hope that Mariah is at a stage in their recovery where she’s prepared to open herself up like this. “Coming out” about mental health is an important step for anyone with a diagnosis, but it should happen over time, free from outside pressures. There’s a huge difference between talking to a few close friends about a mental illness and telling the audience of one of TV’s biggest hits, and I hope Mariah’s prepared for that.

We’ll see more of Mariah Pulice on American Idol in a few weeks. I wish her the best of luck.