Changing Headlines: Mental Health Journalism Fellowships Impact Romania

Emilia Chiscop

"The Carter Center has changed my life completely," says Emilia Chiscop, 41, a former Rosalynn Carter Fellow for Mental Health Journalism.

Only a few years ago, Chiscop was working as a deputy chief editor for the social issues section of Iasi Daily Newspaper, a major newspaper in a cultural and academic hub in eastern Romania.

Chiscop says she was constantly confronted with the challenges facing her community, but mental health issues were never a part of the public dialogue. That is, until a colleague mentioned a Carter Center journalism training workshop on the subject.

"Many people in Romania are very hesitant to talk about mental illness because they view these diseases as a curse or a shame upon their families," Chiscop says. "Even the media focused mostly on sensational news stories about criminals who had mental illnesses."

Romania, like many countries with limited economic resources, has struggled to provide services for people suffering from serious mental illness - even though cost-effective treatments are available. Compounding these concerns, several nongovernmental organizations have identified pervasive human rights violations within state-funded psychiatric institutions. Reports of patients dying from neglect have been common.

After attending the Carter Center seminar, held in partnership with Romania's Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ), Chiscop was inspired. She was eager to start a new, more humanizing conversation on mental illness, about regular citizens contributing to their communities despite their struggle with these disorders.

A 2008-2009 Rosalynn Carter Fellow for Mental Health Journalism, Emilia Chiscop wrote a series of articles for a daily newspaper on people in her hometown living with mental illness.

Chiscop hoped her stories would help fight stigma and also put pressure on the government to invest more in mental health services. She applied for one of two Romanian Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism and was accepted for the 2008-2009 fellowship class.

In addition to receiving a stipend, Chiscop traveled to the United States for the Carter Center's annual fellowship meeting in Atlanta. There, she bonded with other fellows and received three days of expert training on how to develop her fellowship project, emerging science on the brain, and how to deal with the personal, emotional impact of what she would witness or cover as a mental health journalist.

Then, it was back across the Atlantic to her own newsroom in Iasi, where Chiscop worked closely with the Center's fellowship partner, CIJ. Her articles began to generate a lot of attention.

"I would receive email after email from someone who had read one of my articles and needed my help - even colleagues privately admitted to me their own personal struggles with mental illness," Chiscop says. "But what surprised me most was how compassionate people were in their online comments on my stories."

The more she listened to feedback from her readers, the more Chiscop began to feel she could build on her experiences to focus more on international mental health policy.

Since then, Chiscop has pursued advanced degrees in the United States so she can one day help Romania create a community mental health system. She received a master's degree in bioethics from Case Western Reserve University in 2011, and this September, she will complete the Master of International Development Policy Program at Duke University.

"Emilia Chiscop's work during her fellowship year with The Carter Center is a powerful contribution to mental health reporting in Romania and beyond," says Rebecca Palpant, assistant director of the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism. "It is a valuable exemplar of the kind of reporting that the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism were designed to inspire and support."

"I've seen how important it is to give people hope or to help them see things differently," Chiscop says. "I know one person can't do it alone, but together we can create a wave of positive change."

Learn more about Emilia Chiscop's fellowship >

Watch the video: Journalism Fellows Explore Mental Health Issues, Fight Stigma >