LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — As Mental Health Awareness Month comes to a close, THV11 reporters Dorian Craft and Michael Aaron are sparking a conversation they hope will continue for months to come.
Both are sharing how mental health struggles have impacted their lives in an effort to raise awareness and erase stigma.
"One in five Americans experience mental illness every year, and I am one of them," Aaron told viewers on Wednesday. "As a journalist, the last thing I want to do is make any story about myself. But as your neighbor and fellow human — it makes sense to share this part of me with you."
"This job requires that we put on a microphone -- and often a smile -- and bring you the news. It's a job that I love, but being on TV does not make me or my colleagues immune from life's challenges. For me, those challenges include anxiety and depression. I share that to remind you of this: You are not alone. There is help. There is hope," the THV11 morning reporter said.
Craft, a sports anchor and reporter for the station, says she received a diagnosis of anxiety with depressive episodes in July 2020.
"It was certainly exacerbated by the pandemic that we all lived through, that we're continuing to live through but there were issues that I should've dealt with long [before] and I didn't because I was afraid of the stigma of mental illness," Craft said.
"I didn't want to be labeled as crazy., "Craft said. "I didn't want to be labeled as emotional, and all of these things are things that so many people deal with and sometimes they feel like they can't get help. As soon as I was finally able to finally admit to myself that I needed help, things started getting better."
Sacha McBain, Ph.D. is a psychologist in the UAMS Psychiatric Research Institute. She says stigma goes beyond an individual — that it's also cultural and systemic.
"In order to address stigma, we really need to think about the big changes that need to happen in terms of how we talk about and how we access mental health," she said. "As an individual though, I think one of the first steps is to release some of the internal stigma… of recognizing that you need support, and that's not a character flaw."
For those seeking help, McBain says the pandemic has created new opportunities for virtual treatment
AR-Connect is a free telehealth service that is available to anyone in Arkansas. The program offers up to six free therapy sessions and can help people get connected with a clinician for further care.
"One of the really important parts as we move forward through the pandemic and the years to come is to make sure that we have local legislation or federal legislation that is continuing to allow access to telehealth and pay for it because that is one of the biggest things is obviously cost barriers," McBain said.
You can watch the full interview with Dr. McBain in the video player above.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 1-800-273-8255.
People in crisis can also text HELLO to 741741 to speak with a trained listener.