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In the face of a growing national mental health crisis, the Center for Public Integrity is partnering with The Carter Center to launch the Mental Health Parity Collaborative, a new multistate newsroom partnership focused on exploring access to and inequities in mental health care in the U.S.

The newsroom partners are located in six states — Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, Texas, and Pennsylvania — selected for their regional, policy, and demographic diversity. Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative news organization focused on inequality, is serving as the collaborative’s national news partner. The project kicked off in February with a virtual meeting that brought together nearly 40 reporters and editors from across the country.

“It’s a strong sign about the state of journalism when so many amazing news organizations will come together and collaborate like this on an inequality issue affecting so many lives,” said Public Integrity Editor in Chief Matt DeRienzo. “The Center for Public Integrity is honored to be part of this effort and eager to support the state and local news organizations that are participating.”

Newsroom partners include the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting (AZCIR), Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, KQED, Southern California Public Radio (SCPR), The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB), Side Effects Public Media, the Chicago Tribune, Public Source, WITF, KERA, and The Texas Tribune—a group that may expand over time. 

The Journalist’s Resource program at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy will provide research support and assistance curating, summarizing and contextualizing academic research on topics related to mental health parity.

Participating reporters are a mix of long-form digital news and radio journalists who will find compelling stories in their states about why mental health care is not treated, funded, or available on parity with medical care — though federal legislation requires it to be. More than half of U.S. adults with a mental illness, or 27 million people, receive no medical treatment — a number that has been rising since 2011, according to Mental Health America, and roughly 1 in 10 people who struggle with mental illnesses have no health insurance.

“There is no better time to cover this topic in our country as, sadly, we’ve seen the issue take center stage and exacerbate over the last two years during the pandemic,” said Nora Fleming, The Carter Center’s newsroom collaborative manager overseeing the project. “We’ve brought together a team of highly talented reporters and editors who have a passion for covering mental health care and are excited about what they’ll produce in the coming months.”

Nora Fleming
Nora Fleming, The Carter Center’s newsroom collaborative manager

Fleming has more than 15 years of experience in journalism and communications. Previously, she was the senior editor at Edutopia, where she edited and wrote articles, managed multimedia content projects, launched a fellowship program for budding reporters, and led a network of journalists.

Senior Editor Jennifer LaFleur will lead Public Integrity’s editing role with the collaborative. She serves on the boards of directors of the National Center for Disability and Journalism and Investigative Reporters & Editors. Before joining Public Integrity, she was data editor at Investigative Reporting Workshop, senior editor at Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting, and director of data journalism at ProPublica. 

Jennifer LaFleur
Jennifer LaFleur, senior editor at Public Integrity

The stories pursued by newsroom partners will explore long-standing inequities in access to mental health care for marginalized populations through a data-driven, solutions-oriented lens, Fleming said. Coverage may include new mental health legislation proposed in California and Georgia, the ongoing struggles to provide mental health services in schools, or initiatives to provide mental health resources in the criminal justice system, she added. Throughout the project, partners will have opportunities to meet, collaborate, and receive training to support their work.

Staff from the Center’s Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism and Mental Health Program developed the idea for the project in 2019 and secured funding from the David and Lura Lovell Foundation and individual donors. Work is expected to run through August 2022, with the possibility for expansion.

A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, The Carter Center has helped to improve life for people in more than 80 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; and improving mental health care. The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide.

Public Integrity’s investigative reporting examines the causes and effects of inequality, with a focus on employment, housing, health care, education and access to democracy. Its past work on the influence of money in democracy, abuse of the public trust, environmental justice and other topics has been recognized with some of the highest awards in journalism, including the Pulitzer Prize, Goldsmith, Edward R. Murrow, Gerald Loeb and George Polk Awards.

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