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Colombia Alters Landscape of Mental Health Journalism

The successful expansion of Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism in Colombia has led to increased reporting on topics of depression, PTSD, anxiety, and post-conflict trauma. Watch the video below to learn more about how journalism fellows in Colombia are breaking down barriers and transforming public perception of mental illness.

Q & A with Rebecca Palpant Shimkets
Rebecca Shimkets is associate director for The Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism of the Carter Center Mental Health Program.

Q: What are the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism?
The annual fellowships provide stipends and expert training for journalists to report on topics related to mental health or mental illnesses. The goals of the program include increasing accurate reporting and awareness, reducing stigma and stereotypes, and impacting global conversations on these topics.

Q: Tell us about the newest country to partner with the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism.
We have successfully partnered in New Zealand, South Africa, Romania, and now Colombia, where we are working with Universidad de La Sabana's department of communications and journalism as well as their medical school. The hope is that over time they will be able to sustain the program without the Carter Center's support.

Q: What mental health challenges do Colombians face?
The stigma of mental illness and discrimination associated with it continue to affect every country around the world, including Colombia. Add to that, as a society, Colombians are emerging from decades of war, so trauma, PTSD, and anxiety disorders are prevalent with very few resources in place to help.

Q: How would you assess the success of the Colombia Mental Health Fellowships so far?
The Colombia fellowship program has exceeded all expectations, and the success really goes beyond the fellowship projects and the fellows we have awarded. The communications faculty at Universidad de La Sabana has developed a training curriculum for student journalists so they can better understand mental health issues and report them more accurately. In addition, they are breaking down barriers and entering newsrooms to train professional, existing journalists who play key roles in exposing these issues and helping to define mental health as an area of importance.

Q: How can you tell if the fellowship program is having an impact on mental health journalism in Colombia?
On a recent trip to Colombia, in our discussions with editors and other journalists, we were excited to hear that there is a growing interest in mental health and mental illnesses in newsrooms throughout Colombia, and our expectations are high that this will continue to grow into the future.

Published Feb. 24, 2015.

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