Journalists who formed the inaugural cohort of participants from Qatar in September 2016 were invited back to the Carter Center for this year’s RCJF gathering, which ran from September 11-13. They were joined by one of two new Qatar-based program participants who will spend the coming year developing a range of stories that highlight issues relating to mental health.
The RCJF program was established by former U.S. First Lady Rosalynn Carter in 1996. Since then, it has provided journalists around the world with valuable insights into mental health, offering a unique opportunity for participants to improve public understanding of mental health issues and help reduce the discrimination faced by people with mental illnesses.
The year-long program was brought to Qatar in 2016 as a result of a partnership between WISH and The Carter Center. WISH’s involvement with The Carter Center was first discussed in March 2015, when former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter traveled to Doha and met with representatives from WISH. During the meeting, areas of potential collaboration to achieve the shared goal of advancing mental health policy were explored. The Carter Center subsequently invited WISH to select a number of journalists to take part in the program.
Commenting on the collaboration with WISH, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter said: “We are delighted to work with the World Innovation Summit for Health to provide training and support for journalists in Qatar who seek to produce in-depth and accurate reporting of mental health issues and who share our desire to destigmatize mental illnesses.
“Too often we only hear about mental health in the news following a crisis or a tragic event. Yet, every day millions of people around the world living with mental illnesses go to work, care for their children, and contribute to their communities. They are valuable members of society, and their stories deserve to be told.”
The first cohort of fellows from Qatar – Tarek Bazely, Buthaina Al Janahi, Aney Mathew, and Kathy Hearn – traveled to Atlanta in September 2016, where they received advice and training from experts in the field and gave details of mental health journalism projects they planned to undertake during the year of their fellowships. They returned to Atlanta this month to give presentations to the former U.S. First Lady on the work they’d undertaken to highlight mental health issues since joining the program, as well as to the program’s task force members, and advisory board.
Speaking about his year taking part in the program, Tarek Bazley, Science and Technology editor, Al Jazeera English, said: “The fellowship with the Carter Center and our engagement with WISH has enriched and added depth to our global coverage of the universal issue of mental health.”
Buthaina Al Janahi, columnist at Al Arab newspaper, added: “This program helps journalists become the catalysts for reform around mental health policies.”
The two new fellows who have joined the 2017-18 program are Jawahir Al-Naimi, Assistant Producer at Al Jazeera English, and Samira Barre, a freelance writer and filmmaker who is also co-founder of Hersare Foundation, a Somali NGO supporting vulnerable and neglected people in Somalia and the Horn of Africa.
Barre was able to travel to this year’s gathering in Atlanta despite Hurricane Irma, which curtailed the plans of many of those from around the world planning to attend. Over the coming year, she aims to explore the need for and benefit of the existence of a strong support system for people living with mental illness and the impact that mental illness has on families. Al-Naimi did not travel to Atlanta but joined the meeting via video conference and spoke of her plans to use her fellowship year to raise awareness in Qatar about post-partum depression and in particular to identify the social factors that prevent mothers from seeking help.
Sultana Afdhal, acting Chief Executive Officer of WISH, accompanied the Qatar-based fellows to Atlanta. She said: “At WISH we have a long-standing commitment to raising awareness on mental health, and we believe that the media plays a crucial role in shaping public perception. Our partnership with The Carter Center offers an excellent opportunity to develop the highest standards of mental health reporting in Qatar. We are delighted to continue our partnership for the second year running, especially after seeing the positive impact of the work done by last year’s fellows.”
Since the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism were established, fellows have produced more than 1,500 stories, documentaries, books, and other works during and after their fellowship year. Their projects have garnered Emmy Awards, nominations for the Pulitzer Prize, and a range of other prestigious awards.
WISH is an initiative of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development. Its partnership with the Carter Center underscores its longstanding commitment to raising awareness of issues around mental health, and developing evidence-based research to address related policy challenges, such as those facing dementia and autism.