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There is a strange dichotomy between the composed, eloquent Michael Kimber at the podium and his digitized self on the screen behind him. As he reenacts an anxiety attack in his video poem, “The Cure,” beads of sweat run down his forehead and he gasps for air, eyelids fluttering frantically.

Kimber was one of the five speakers invited to tell their stories at the Opening Minds: Changing How We See Mental Illness symposium on February 2, hosted by the Mental Health Commission of Canada and Ryerson’s School of Journalism. The objective was to home in on the media’s stigmatization of mental illness, providing insights both from those living with disorders and professionals like André Picard, The Globe and Mail’s respected public health reporter.There is a general consensus among the speakers that news reports tend to perpetuate negative stereotypes about mental illness. They focus solely on the grave cases, neglecting to quote those suffering from the illnesses and opting for punchy jargon instead of scientific terminology.
“We shouldn’t do it in hushed tones and whispered implications,” says Picard. “I don’t know what ‘snapped’ means. I know what psychosis means. ‘Snapped’ is not an illness.”We always cover the outliers, like the ones whose diseases have driven them to commit horrific crimes. Picard says that our task is to normalize mental illness, giving a voice to those suffering in silence and making treatment and recovery more prominent themes. The problem is that although one in five people suffers from a mental illness, there aren’t many willing to speak out. Ever since Kimber, a writer from Nova Scotia, shared his story with the masses through his blog, he’s been receiving letters from strangers too ashamed to reach out to friends or family, afraid of being stamped with the same stigma.“We need to eradicate this idea that makes us feel hollow and broken,” says Kimber. “I’m here because these strangers keep breaking my heart, and we need to do something about it.”

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About the author

Chelsey Burnside was the Senior Online Editor of the Summer 2012 issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism.

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