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Too Good An Opportunity To Be Missed

By Mike Gourley

From a Rosalynn Carter Fellow 'down under'

'Lil' ol' New Zealand made one of its infrequent dents on the American psyche a few nights ago, with the world premiere of The Lord of the Rings – the Two Towers in New York City. No doubt the spookiness of the title wasn't lost on New Yorkers. And it made me think again of the events that unfolded on the morning of 911 – the first day of our induction into the world of the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship in Mental Health journalism. An auspicious start to the inclusion of New Zealanders in the programme.

While we continue to live with the reverberations of those days, it is also true to say that life has gone on. Over the ensuing year, I used the opportunity afforded me to develop and produce radio documentaries that have made their own impact on the appreciation of mental illness issues. The purpose of the documentaries was three fold:

  • To subject the media to the reflections and analysis of people with mental illness, and other commentators concerned with the portrayal of mental illness issues;
  • To evaluate the negative impact of media portrayal of mental illness issues on people who live with mental illness, and on the communities they live in;
  • To assess the effectiveness of existing stigma-countering campaigns, and suggest other strategies to effect change to existing media responses

For about four months this last year, I lived and breathed the 'Carter Fellowship' documentaries. Having already recorded interviews with people from New York City, and Washington DC and its environs, I moved to meet up with people in Australia and New Zealand. Having completed that process, I set about fashioning three feature documentaries to reflect the above themes. They played on Radio New Zealand's prime-time Sunday morning slot – 'Ideas' –in August this year. To date, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. I'm told that no other single resource produced has been so requested within the wider mental health community. My only hope is that the issues raised and the voices heard will break into the mainstream media as well.

Without the resources of the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship available to me, it is unlikely that Radio New Zealand would have pursued such an ambitious project. Furthermore, as a journalist who does not identify as mentally ill, it was essential I have a project team to work with that ensured the voices of people with mental illness were present and predominant. The Fellowship ensured that could happen.

I am so pleased that, together, we have brought such an exciting and challenging project to fruition. I urge my colleagues in the broadcast and print media to think seriously about making use of this precious opportunity provided by Rosalynn Carter and her team at the Carter Center.

Mike Gourley

2001-2002 Rosalynn Carter Fellow

Wellington, New Zealand

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