The first season of the new podcast series by Chatham News + Record and Our Chatham, the “ChatCast,” comes out today. You can find it online or through various streaming services.
In Chatham County, mental health isn’t typically a dinner table topic. But the creators of the ChatCast are hoping to change that to deal with an issue that is so vital to Chatham County and beyond, as data suggests mental illness – as well as suicide – are only getting more prevalent.
News + Record Reporter Zachary Horner and Our Chatham Reporter Adrianne Cleven have interviewed more than 30 people in and around Chatham County — including educators, mental health professionals, teenagers and parents — to provide insight on the topic.
The first season of the podcast, “Age of Anxiety,” discusses mental health topics throughout the county of Chatham. Cleven and Horner are the minds behind the project.
Cleven, a journalism student at UNC-Chapel Hill and reporter for Our Chatham, has been working with Horner for the past five months to bring a podcast to the people of Chatham about an important topic that is not nearly discussed enough.
As for Horner, he said the volume of reported mental health episodes and reports made the story all the more important to tackle.
“The numbers are staggering, but what was most notable to me was how little they surprised people who work in the field,” he said. “They see this every day and they know what the issues are. I think it would be wise of us to listen to them as Chatham moves forward.”
Consider: According to 2017 county reports, roughly one in nine high-school students have reported an attempt at suicide – and that is just the number of people who self-reported. The report, covering 2016, goes on to say that about 20 percent had seriously considered suicide. Depression is rampant.
What does it translate into? Suicide in Chatham County – and across the country – is the second-leading cause of death for youth. And this number is not stagnant; it has risen in the past several years.
“It was these numbers that pushed us forward to make this series,” Horner said. “There are real teens out there dealing with real issues, and they need all the help they can get, as any of us with mental, physical or emotional issues needs. Personally, I hope this helps diminish any stigma remaining around the topic in Chatham. This is a real thing that many people are affected by, and the stigma does no one any good.”
Cleven truly feels like this project was one worth pursuing, despite her busy schedule as a full-time student.
“[ChatCast] was a great opportunity for growth… at times it felt like such a monumental project for two people, so it was a little overwhelming,” said Cleven.
The biggest struggle of the project was finding time to drive around Chatham County to collect interviews, “especially because podcasting is about collecting the best quality audio you can,” said Cleven, as well as the best subjects to tell an important story.
Cleven, a Chatham native, expressed the importance of a podcast that is “Chatham-centric for our people and our specific issues.” While mental health issues are prevalent around the entire word, focusing on one community gives a unique perspective.
“Students are struggling with this,” said Cleven.
Mental health issues are becoming increasingly prevalent, and Chatham County is no exception.
“This podcast is giving students a great opportunity to get information that is trusted,” she said.
While Cleven says the podcast is not meant for her or Horner to dole out medical or psychological advice, it is still a resource for students to find understanding for topics surrounding mental health. Cleven believes that the more mental health issues are discussed, they become more manageable.
Still, as important as bringing light to the subject is, finding solutions is also key. That is something the two, as well as the project’s home sites of Our Chatham and the News + Record, are hoping will follow.
The two news outlets are planning a third One Chatham event for January to discuss the very issue highlighted in the podcast in hopes of finding some of these solutions and discussing the pressing issue in an open forum. More details on the One Chatham event will follow in the coming week.
The Chatham News + Record will open the entire season Friday.
“We wanted people to be able to binge listen,” said Cleven.
Cleven is excited to have this resource out there – not just for students, but also for teachers, community members and lawmakers. “I am excited for it to have a life that lasts beyond a newspaper article … I am excited for it to be an evergreen resource for kids and teens because this information won’t get old.”
Chatham News + Record and Our Chatham have not yet revealed what the next season of “ChatCast” will look like, but Cleven hopes to stay involved in some way.
Horner and Cleven wrote, edited and narrated all of the 10-episode first season. Bill Horner III, editor of the Chatham News + Record, and Eric Ferkenhoff, editor of Our Chatham, are executive producers for the project.
“It was a really surreal experience, to be honest,” Horner said. “Most journalists, at least to my knowledge, don’t get the opportunity to dive into a topic like this for as long as we did and put together a story like we did.”
Cleven agreed: “Zach and I listened to almost the entire project in one sitting to check levels and make sure it sounded good. Finally seeing it all come together was really beautiful… hearing it like our audiences will hear it was really rewarding.”