Carter Fellow Marion Scher’s new book tells stories of lived experience and hope

By Susan Hunsinger
Program Associate, Carter Center Mental Health Program

A new mother shares her struggle with postpartum depression.

A transgender person retraces a difficult journey.

A young man whose suicide attempt left him a paraplegic and whose life in recovery is full and fulfilling.

Image courtesy Marion Scher

These are the stories that 2005-2006 Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellow Marion Scher highlights in her new book, “Surfacing; People Coping with Depression and Mental Illness,” expected to go on sale January 1, 2021.

The book, Scher said, features “people from our many cultures who tell their own stories of hope.”

In it, 11 people, including Springbok rugby player A.J. Ventner, businessman Darryl Brown and artist Yvette Hess, tell their stories of coping with depression. Each chapter also includes practical tips on how to manage specific mental illnesses.

The idea for a book came to Scher during her fellowship year, but she did didn’t know what form it should take.

After recent discussions with the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) and mental health professionals, Scher honed in on giving voice to people with lived experience.

“What fascinated and has always driven me in writing about this topic of mental health is the incredible response I always got from these stories,” Scher said.

As a fellow, Scher produced over 16 articles and has continued to report on mental health issues.

In addition to three business books and six other co-written books, including the 2019 “Saving my Sons: A Journey with Autism” with Ilana Gershowitz, Scher is active as pro bono media consultant at SADAG, and edits quarterly magazine Mental Health Matters for South Africa’s medical professionals.

Trained as a news reporter, Scher also works in corporate communications and training.

The Carter Center’s Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism operated with center support in South Africa from 2004 to 2011 and trained 14 journalists.

Marion Scher

After 2011, Marion Scher and SADAG founder Zane Wilson sought sponsorship to continue the fellowships from Pfizer, Discovery Health and now Cipla Pharmaceuticals.

They also supported mental health and media workshops in South Africa, and trained over 160 volunteer counsellors who answer over 1,000 calls a day and who respond to hundreds of emails, text messages, and Facebook and Twitter posts that deal with mental health issues, Scher noted.

As in other countries, the pandemic has highlighted the urgent need for access to and availability of quality mental health services in South Africa.

SADAG offers the only suicide crisis helpline in the country and calls have doubled since the pandemic lockdown. Between January and September 2020, SADAG’s call volume increased by 63%, according to SADAG.

“I want to carry on Mrs. Carter’s legacy of helping break the stigma of mental health,” Scher said by email after the book’s virtual launch in November. “Very simply, I hope the book will get people talking, and it already is.”

Kari Cobham

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