How Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellows are helping communities cope with COVID-19

By Kari Cobham
Senior Associate Director, Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellowships & Media

ATLANTA — Alia Dastagir was eight months pregnant when she came to the Carter Center last year for training on mental health reporting.

She wondered how she’d soon balance being a mother of two, her work as an enterprise reporter at USA Today and her project on the caregivers of suicidal people as a 2019-2020 Rosalynn Carter Fellow for Mental Health Journalism.

But she need not have worried.

Dastagir received two awards this year—one from the Council on Contemporary Families for her reporting on America’s lack of affordable childcare and another from the American Association of Suicidology for her integrity when reporting on suicide and its prevention.

“Her stories remain hopeful, action oriented and with an eye on solutions to solve the problem at scale, all while reaching millions of people across the country,” said Chris Maxwell, director of public relations and media at the American Association of Suicidology (AAS).

[Read more of Fellow Alia Dastagir’s reporting during the 2019-2020 fellowship year]

But now, like many others across the world, Dastagir faces additional concerns.

Her newsroom is one of many feeling the real economic and mental health impacts of COVID-19. And for the next few months, she’ll spend a week each month furloughed at home, losing out on income and time that could be spent reporting at a critical period.

Still, Dastagir continues to report, staying in close contact with the Carter Center’s Mental Health Program team to share her stories on COVID-19 mental health that help communities nationwide.

“Most journalists don’t do the work because they want accolades — we do it because we want to help make sense of the world,” Dastagir told us via email after winning the AAS award.

COVID-19 and your mental health

Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter talks to fellows at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo/The Carter Center

Dastagir has tackled topics that range from fear during the pandemic and isolation triggering suicidal feelings to feelings of loss and coping with uncertainty.

The Carter Center has compiled a helpful list of pandemic mental health resources both for journalists on the front lines and the general public thanks to the tireless reporting of Dastagir, fellows and journalists as well as timely tips from global organizations. Tap below to view:

Mental Health and COVID-19 Resources from The Carter Center

COVID-19 Mental Health Resources for Journalists and You

Other fellows have reported on managing coronavirus anxiety, the challenges of the mental health care system at this time, tips from mental health experts on staying mentally well, how the virus is impacting people experiencing homelessness and more.

“The Carter Center Mental Health Program is committed to promoting mental health and well-being during the pandemic,” said Dr. Eve Byrd, program director.

“We’re disseminating reliable information that promotes the mental health of the general public, journalists and vulnerable populations around the world, and also monitoring state and federal policy that affects people’s access to mental health care now and beyond,” Byrd added.

The Carter Center Mental Health Program is also worked closely with Cox Media Group and Atlanta ABC affiliate WSB-TV on weekly news segments on mental health and COVID-19, using the Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Task Force’s wealth of knowledge.

About the Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellowships

The Carter Center’s Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism support a diverse cohort of journalists from Latin America, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and United States. Fellows are deeply committed to exploring some of society’s biggest mental health challenges.

The program was founded in 1996 by former First Lady Rosalynn Carter to give journalists the resources they need to report on mental health and help dismantle through storytelling the stigma that millions of people face every day.

Over the past two decades, more than 220 journalists from New Zealand, Romania, South Africa, and current participating countries have been awarded the highly competitive fellowships. Fellows work within their newsrooms and beyond to report on mental health challenges and transform their communities — and lives — in the process.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. To learn about the Carter Center’s work to advance mental health locally, nationally, and globally, visit The deadline for Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism has been extended to April 29. Get more information on applying here.

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Kari Cobham

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