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A New Language for Mental Illness

10/14/2010 5:00 PM 46
Jane Pauley, TV host, author

Description: Mental illness needs a "new narrative," say Jane Pauley. Just as cancer has moved from the shadows to pink ribbons and races for the cure, mental illness must shed its public aura of fear and shame. "Shrewd move; let's do that," says Pauley.

In a revealing and self"effacing talk, Pauley describes her own passage a decade ago from poster girl for NBC News to psychiatric patient. At 50, she was well aware of her reputation: "I could make no credible claim to being the best, hardest working, most beautiful in the industry. But honest, I owned normal. Or I thought I did." So the "bombshell diagnosis" of bipolar disorder, brought on by steroid treatment for hives, and antidepressants, rocked her world.

It was a long struggle to crawl back from "the dark precipice of mental illness," which included a period of hospitalization. And it did not help that her doctor was shocked that Pauley, who was writing an autobiography, wanted to discuss her condition in the book. In spite of such anguish and anxiety, Pauley says she "had hope" even from the beginning. Medicine helped, but Pauley also credits the capacity to open up about her situation with family and increasingly, in public forums. "When I'm heard talking comfortably about mental illness, as comfortably as talking about triple bypass surgery, I think I'm helping normalize mental illness. Normalizing is a much better word than destigmatizing. Change vocabulary, narrative; change minds, save lives," she says.

Today Pauley sees a shift in how people regard mental illness, a new candor. Knowledge is the antidote to fear, she believes, and work "demystifying the brain is a step toward destigmatizing mental illness." Her personal goal, she concludes, is to "banish ugly, out"of"date attitudes" and replace them with "new neural connections, positive associations. As they say, consciousness once raised cannot easily be lowered again."

About the Speaker(s): Jane Pauley began her journalism career in 1972 as a 'temporary, probationary employee for 90 days' at WISH TV in Indianapolis-her hometown. Three years later, she became the first woman to anchor a weekday evening newscast in Chicago at NBC's WMAQ"TV. At the age of 25, she was co"host of NBC's TODAY show.

Pauley also anchored the Weekend Edition of NBC News, appeared as a regular substitute for Tom Brokaw on Nightly News, hosted Time and Again -- a retrospective news program on MSNBC, and a weekly newsmagazine, Real Life with Jane Pauley. For more than a decade, she anchored DATELINE NBC with co"host, Stone Phillips, appearing as many as four nights a week on the NBC primetime schedule. In 2004, she returned to television with The Jane Pauley Show.

A member of the Broadcast and Cable Hall of Fame, Jane Pauley has been honored with multiple Emmy Awards, the Edward R. Murrow Award for outstanding achievement, and the Radio and Television News Directors Association's Paul White Award for lifetime contribution to electronic journalism, among others.

Pauley is an advocate in the field of mental health. In her memoir, Skywriting: a Life out of the Blue, she wrote candidly about being diagnosed with mental illness at the age of 50. In 2008, the National Alliance on Mental Illness presented her with their highest honor, The Rona and Ken Purdy Award, for her national contribution to the fight against discrimination and stigma. She is a member of the Leadership Board of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT.

Host(s): School of Science, McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

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