Magazine article Newsweek

The Editor's Desk

Magazine article Newsweek

The Editor's Desk

Article excerpt

Byline: Jon Meacham

As opening sentences go, the one Mary Carmichael wrote for this week's cover is one of the more chilling I can remember: "Max Blake was 7 the first time he tried to kill himself."

Thus begins Mary's account of the Blake family's struggle with Max's bipolar disorder, a serious mental illness typified by recurring bouts of mania and depression. Roughly 6.5 million Americans are affected by it, and of those about 800,000 are under the age of 18. It is a mysterious and stigmatizing disease. As Mary writes in her piece, which was edited by David Noonan, the bipolar brain is miswired, but no one knows why this happens, and while there are many drugs, many do not work well, or at all. And the number of bipolar diagnoses is rising, which means you are going to be hearing more about this disease and its effects in the coming years.

All of which are the kinds of general points you would expect from a piece of journalism about a disease and its sufferers. They are important points. What you are more likely to take away from Mary's story of the Blakes, however, is less about medicine and science and more about the family itself--a family whose story is so raw and so real that I asked Mary why anyone would let a reporter get so close. "They told me right off, the first time I met them, that they felt this kind of story hadn't been told and they wanted to help other parents--to make them realize they're not alone.

"Driving through Peabody, Mass., on my way to meet the Blakes for the first time five months ago, I was struck by their neighborhood: it was so ordinary," Mary says. "There were kids shooting hoops in their driveways, a postman walking from mailbox to mailbox--and the Blakes' own house had a full-height flagpole in the front yard. I've been a journalist long enough to know that appearance often belies reality, but still, this was classic suburbia, a neighborhood just like the one where I grew up. …

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