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Opening Monologues: The Mental Health Show

The following is a transcript of the opening monologue I do at the top of each show on WGN Radio. My show, the Saturday Night Special, is a single-topic program on which I discuss one topic all night. This week, I discussed mental health.

May is mental health awareness month and tonight on the Saturday Night Special, that’s what we’re talking about.

But having a special month is not why we’re talking about it. We’re talking about it because it needs more discussion.

Here are the facts– according to data from Mental Health America the Center for Disease Control, and the national Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 americans have some variety of mental health condition. This is 43.7 million Americans. That’s more than the entire population of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin all put together . And 1 in 25 americans, or nearly 10 million people experience some form of severe mental illness at some point that substantially interferes with their daily lives. And looking at state-by-state data, Illinois has the 5th highest rates of mental illness int eh US, with nearly 1.6m residents impacted directly.

Youth mental health is worsening, too — with rates rising over the last several years, and with 80% having no or insufficient care.

Mental health is a topic that can go a lot of ways, and, indeed, can get very dark, but, look– on the heels on the recent high-profile suicides of former NFL player Aaron Hernandez and musician Chris Cornell, AND with staggering data around stress and anxiety and mental health, AND with for a much as we thread mental illness through and around so many stories in the news involving violent crime— for all that, and for as much as we are talking about it– one can also argue that we’re not talking about it enough, and especially not in the ways that we should.

For as openly as we talk about most physical illnesses, mental health is still shrouded in taboo. There’s still a sense that if one would just pull himself up by the bootstraps or cheer up and shake it off he’d be ok. Along with it, a narrative exists that vulnerability and openness is weakness,– we wouldn’t very well mock someone for admitting they need to see a doctor for having the flu or an earache, in fact, we’d probably encourage them to do so, so then why is needing help with mental health still met with judgement?

While we can enter circular and endless discussion about the notion of policing our language often identified as the refusal to be quote unquote politically correct, versus being more accepting of others through the words we chose, it comes down to this– what we’ve been doing and the way we’ve talking about mental health isn’t helping and in our constantly connected, over-committed world filled with grim headlines about atrocities around the world, and a contentious political climate, these are real topics that we need to address, openly, plainly and quickly.

So, if being a little more conscious of shifting to slightly more inclusive language could help someone… wouldn’t you want it to?

We’ve made strides, to be sure– thinking back just a few years– the suicide of Robin Williams, suddenly had people talking about suicide, anxiety and mental illness in more open ways than before. But, there’s still a ways to go.

So tonight, we talking about mental health in the U.S., and while there are many aspects to it to acknowledge and explore, we’ll talk about as many as we can tonight, and with guests who bring professional and clinical perspective to the conversation, as well as data and, perhaps even hope of changing the narrative a bit.

I’m Amy Guth and that’s all coming up tonight on the Saturday Night Special on 720 WGN.

(Break for show opener music)

Tonight we are talking about mental health. Don’t let the topic scare you away–it won’t be so grim, in fact, we’re aiming at lifting the lid off a too-taboo topic and having constructive conversation — not AROUND the topic as so often is the case, but right in it. As ever, we’ll be joined by guests to help us explore different aspects of it– We’ll talk with two clinical mental health professionals about the way to talk about mental health and about recent high-profile suicides. We’ll also talk about mental health in the political narrative, and with a clinical social worker who supervises a crisis text line, and president of the Illinois chapter of Mental Health America.

We’ll be right back to get the conversation underway, on 720-WGN.

(Listen to full show)