KSTP’s Ken Barlow on Life, TV News and Being Honest About Mental Illness

By Mark Joyella 

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Just so we’re clear on this: I’m not in the least bit impartial about Ken Barlow. To me, he’s a hero. Barlow, meteorologist at Minneapolis ABC affiliate KSTP, revealed he’d been diagnosed with bipolar disorder two years ago. It was a hugely brave decision, and one with tremendous potential to reduce the stigma that surrounds mental illness, especially in television. It inspired me personally to be brave enough to follow his lead.

Two years later, Barlow tells MinnPost he has no regrets. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a terrifying–and professionally risky–move. “I could have lost my job,” he said. “I could have lost my friends. I had no idea what was going to happen, but I felt like I just couldn’t hold it in anymore”:

It turns out that for me the hardest part of this diagnosis was hiding it. When you’re a public person, everybody thinks you must be perfect. You have the perfect hair, the perfect suits. You even wear makeup on camera. You’re presented as no flaws. So when I was first diagnosed in 2007, I put up all these barriers. I was horrified, because I pictured everybody with a mental illness as “One Flew Over the Cuckoo ’s Nest” or a murderer. That’s all I ever really heard about mental illness.

I was ashamed and embarrassed. My wife helped me build up walls. It got so bad she would go to the drugstore and pick up my prescriptions because I didn’t want people to see me with my medications.

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