Thursday, September 20, 2012

Reporters discuss issues in mental health coverage with conference goers

~Written by Alex Hubbard

The state of mental health in a small Wisconsin town grabbed headlines this summer and brought the two reporters who covered the story to this year’s APME conference to discuss their findings.

Megan Sheridon and Trista Pruett, of the Beaver Dam Daily Citizen, a small newspaper just outside of Madison, were the winners of the APME’s Community Journalism and Public Service Initiative, a competition that awarded a $1,000 grant to a newspaper to cover a public service concern.

Pruett and Sheridon made their issue mental health in Dodge County, where Beaver Dam is located and where there are more cows than people, according to Pruett.

“Both Trista and I had covered some county board meetings where they talked about mental health and how the county had a mental-health initiative, and they were adding more hours and adding more staff,” Sheridon said. “I kind of kept that idea in the back of my head as a project that I wanted to work on, and this was a really great opportunity from APME for us to really flesh it out and put some kind of hard work and time into it.”

Megan Sheradin and Trista Pruett of the Daily Citizen are interviewed by Alex Hubbard. Sheradin and Pruett won the APME Community Journalism Initiative for their coverage of mental healthcare in rural communities.
~Photo by Matt Masters

Sheridon and Pruett set out to speak with government officials, private psychologists and people affected by mental health problems.

Pruett followed two children who dealt with anger disorders, and Sheridon covered a woman with manic depression.

It developed into a three-part series, which ran throughout the summer of this year, with written features as well as multimedia presentations depicting the struggles of mental health patients as they worked with what instantly appeared to be inadequate mental care options.

They discovered patients who had to wait up to six months to be seen by medical professionals, and a government that simply did not have the ability to cope.

“Dodge County is a very fiscally- and socially-conservative county,” Sheridon said. “Spending taxpayer dollars on a county program like this– that’s not going to happen.”

Still, Pruett and Sheridon said the point was not to inform government officials, but to inform the community.

”The government people who need to be working on this, they have been informed that this is a problem,” Pruett said. “I think our goal in this was to make the average citizen aware because just walking down the street, most people aren’t thinking. When they’re thinking of all the problems, they’re thinking of the economy, they’re thinking of healthcare in general. They’re not thinking of a lack of mental healthcare.”

Pruett covers the county court system and said she was relatively prepared for what the investigation discovered, but for Sheridon, who covers two small towns and grew up in the community, the experience was eye opening.

“Coming back here, you know, I’m seeing more than just what that childhood vision of what Dodge County was like,” she said. “It’s not just people working in a rural county. It’s people experiencing life and trials and tribulations.”

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