There’s usually a back story to any main event.
In this case, the main event is a special feature by CNN, My Son is Mentally Ill, So Listen Up,” a 10-minute video documentary and story by Wayne Drash.
The story is about Stephanie Escamilla of San Antonio and her 14-year-old son “Daniel” (a pseudonym because of his age) and his experience living with mental illness.
The feature was unveiled on the CNN website on Dec. 11. In addition, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta in news broadcasts on Dec. 12-13 discussed Daniel’s recovery, calling it “a daily struggle.”
Drash posted another video talking about his experience meeting Daniel. By the end of the weekend, Dec. 15, CNN had received thousands of comments by email, Facebook and Twitter—making the story a truly interactive one with its audience.
On Dec. 16, Drash wrote another story about the responses received, titled “Hope Amidst the Pain”
So what’s the back story?
Drash first approached NAMI in January 2013 for assistance in developing the story, such as finding a family with a teenager living with mental illness who would be willing to let him visit in their home and follow them with a camera for a few days.
We found Stephanie, who had submitted her family’s story to the “You Are Not Alone” feature on the NAMI website, where people share their personal stories of the affect mental illness has had in their lives.
It turned out that Stephanie is a member of the NAMI San Antonio board and teaches a NAMI Basics class for parents of children who are diagnosed before age 13.
She first learned about NAMI three years ago through the recommendation of a friend. She calls her work as a NAMI teacher and advocate one of the best experiences of her life.
Drash met her for the first time in June 2013 at NAMI’s national convention, which this past year happened to be in San Antonio. It was a good omen.
From start to finish, the story was nearly a year in the making.
Following the CNN broadcast and reading some of the messages received about the feature, Daniel told her: “I finally can say that I accept myself for who I am. I am not my mental illness; I am me.”
The energy that comes from mutual support and the liberation that comes from speaking out can be steps toward recovery for any person or family. Sometimes, we have more power than we know.
Wayne Drash also has a powerful gift. In 2012, Drash was named one of the top best online writers in the nation. He is also the author of On These Courts: A Miracle Season that Changed a City, a Once-Future Star, and a Team Forever. Not many journalists understand the challenges of mental illness and can write or produce a story with insight, honesty and sensitivity. Too many tell these stories wrong, resulting in stereotypes, patronization or even romantic visions.
Thanks to Wayne, Stephanie and Daniel, who had the courage to share their story, many people have heard about the real experience of families affected by mental illness.
By Bob Carolla, NAMI Director of Media Relations