Ordinary Courage

Interim editor Howie Magner’s February letter to our readers.

I still remember receiving the text message from Trenni Kusnierek in the spring of 2012, and reading it several times to make sure I’d fully understood it.

I was doing a Milwaukee Magazine profile about the outspoken sports broadcaster’s adventurous lifestyle, as well as her rise up the rungs of a male-dominated business. She’d known television success on both a local and national level. She’d climbed mountains and traveled the world. So I expected it would be a fun piece.

I never suspected it would spotlight her mental health.

But that text message changed the story’s entire tone. For the first time in a public forum, she told me, she wanted to open up about her anxiety and depression, in hopes that doing so might help others. Given the potential impact on her professional image, I thought it was courageous.

In a perfect world, though, it wouldn’t be courageous at all. It would be ordinary, as routine as discussing your high cholesterol or lower back pain. That’s how experts say mental health should be viewed, as just an extension of our physical health, absent any stigma that might dissuade people from discussing their mental concerns or seeking help.

We’re a long way from that goal, but perhaps edging closer. Our extensive package on Milwaukee’s mental health landscape (“Mind Matters”), spearheaded by Associate Editor Claire Hanan, certainly paints a picture of challenges that range from getting quality treatment to figuring out how to pay for it.

But the feature also spotlights its share of progress. People are speaking up more, and as Kusnierek explains in one of the package’s personal essays, they’re not always getting the response they expect. Protocols are changing, as evidenced by the Milwaukee Police Department’s response to one of our city’s tragedies, the shooting death of Dontre Hamilton. And the system is evolving, working toward a better bridge between the physical and mental health care systems.

Perhaps someday, discussing mental health will be as common and easy as chatting about dentistry. And perhaps accessing proper care will be as easy as thumbing through a list like the one in our “Top Dentists” story.

I’m hopeful, because times do change, and lives do change, and it’s people who change them through the simplest of acts. Andre Lee Ellis is forging his brand of transformation simply by pairing young boys with men, putting them all in tuxedos, and giving them a day to remember (“Well Suited”).

And Kusnierek changed lives – both hers and others – simply by sharing her story. Sometimes, it’s not the silence that is golden, but the words that break it.

‘Ordinary Courage’ appears in the February 2016 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find the February issue on newsstands beginning Feb. 1.

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Howie Magner is a former managing editor of Milwaukee Magazine who often writes about sports for the magazine.