The word “stigma” needs to be banished from any discussion of mental health, according to longtime newswoman Jane Pauley – who as someone with bipolar disorder knows how detrimental that word can be to people who need help.
“I’m all for fighting stigma,” she said. “Just stop talking about it. … Speaking as a mental patient, the word makes me feel awful.”
In a free-wheeling conversation with APA President Nadine J. Kaslow, PhD, at the convention’s opening session, Pauley wondered why the public is so obsessed with taking advice from celebrities. But she lauded the efforts of actor Michael J. Fox, former first lady Betty Ford and even cyclist Lance Armstrong for using their fame to raise public awareness of, respectively, Parkinson’s disease, breast cancer and testicular cancer.
But who knew that Pauley could be so self-deprecating and so candid about being bipolar? When she was diagnosed at age 50 (13 years ago, she said – making a point of revealing her age), her doctor said she should tell NBC, her then-employer, that she had a thyroid problem – which was true, she said, but wasn’t the whole story.
“I was supposed to feel shame, but I didn’t,” she said. “I knew that telling my story had the potential to make a difference, and it has.”
Despite Pauley’s being a career interrogator, Kaslow brought her up short with the question, “What recommendations do you have for us for improving the mental health system in this country?”
Pausing, Pauley said, “Recruit as many smart people to your field as possible.”
Another beat. “Don’t fight amongst yourselves.” Audible titters in the audience.
“You’ve stumped me.” Pause again. “Don’t over-promise. … Be gentle with your patients when they fail you or let you down or leave you. … Let them go. We’re not always the right fit for you.”
She closed by talking about her return to journalism after a hiatus, including hospitalization, to deal with her bipolar diagnosis. She returned to “Dateline” on Sept. 10, 2001. And the next day, she said, “Everyone had what I had. We were all depressed, we were all scared. … To be a journalist that week made sense. To be bipolar that week was universal.”