In the Press: The Carolyn C. Mattingly Award for Mental Health Reporting

Eager to learn about the spectrum of mental health, we explored every pathway available. We spoke with some of the most gifted and respected minds in medicine, public health, and government. With more knowledge came different perspectives—and even more questions.

In our discussions with these many experts, one idea struck a major chord: elevating the discussion on mental health and ultimately bringing more attention to it through quality journalism. Then came the obvious question: What role might The Luv u Project responsibly play in this endeavor?

And so evolved our idea to establish a new, prestigious journalism award for excellence in mental health reporting. Concerned with how to establish, administer, and circulate such an award, We shared our idea with Frank Deford, a good friend and an extraordinary journalist. His encouragement and guidance led us to The National Press Foundation (NPF).

The NPF is a non-profit organization that works to increase journalists’ knowledge of complex issues in order to improve the public’s understanding of them. Its track record of presenting journalism awards is proven and distinguished. The NPF agreed to help us establish and administer the Carolyn C. Mattingly Award for Mental Health Reporting, a top-tier journalism award in every respect. With the same level of cash reward as the Pulitzer Prize, this award honors members of the media who successfully increase awareness and prompt responsible actions in mental health throughout the country. Our arrangement with the NPF was for one year, on an experimental basis, so we strove to be immediately impactful—and we were.

We received 51 entries for the award in a very brief period of time. According to Sandy Johnson, the president of the NPF, “That is an amazing response, especially for a brand-new award that wasn’t on any news radar.” Entries arrived from big print outlets such as the New York Times and Los Angeles
Times, from TV networks such as ABC and CNN, from digital publications like Huffington Post, ProPublica, and Bloomberg, and from dozens of medium-sized newspaper, radio, and TV outlets.

In April 2016, we announced the inaugural winner of the Carolyn C. Mattingly Award for Mental Health Reporting. Leonora LaPeter Anton and Anthony Cormier of the Tampa BayTimes and Michael Braga of Sarasota Herald-Tribune worked for more than 18 months on “Insane. Invisible. In danger.” The five-part series exposes the harrowing conditions at Florida’s institutions for the mentally ill after $100 million in budget cuts, and it reveals the dangers not only to mentally ill patients but also to workers at the institutions, where treatment takes a back seat to controlling rampant violence. Since the series was published, lawmakers have acted to curb the violence at Florida’s mental hospitals.

On Tuesday, May 24, 2016, the winners joined over 100 special Luv u guests at the historic National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to celebrate their extraordinary body of work. Since being named winners of the Carolyn C. Mattingly Award, they have also won the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting and the Associated Press Managing Editors Innovation in Journalism Award.

Our experiment was a huge success, thanks to Sandy Johnson and the NPF for their willingness to follow my instincts and for their ongoing support. I am very proud to share that the Carolyn C. Mattingly Award is now secured on a long-term basis. We will announce the timeline for the 2017 award later this fall.

We are also proud to share an important update: After the success of the Carolyn C. Mattingly Award, the NPF was inspired to establish a new program to train journalists on the complexities of mental health. As described in the NPF announcement, the program is “a four-day program, covering a range of topics including: diagnosis and intervention; developments in treatment and research; economic impact; demographics; mental health legislation and public policy reforms; successful models in crisis intervention training for law enforcement; and community-based care.” According to the NPF, journalists will “look at best practices for reporting on mental illness and mental health policy, with a focus on how to approach reporting on crimes involving the mentally ill.” This new training program is a perfect example of how our action can make an impact.

Another important relationship that was established due to the Carolyn C. Mattingly Award is one with the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia. The Luv u Project was invited to attend the annual meeting of The Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism in September, and we are honored by the invitation and the center’s kind spirit of collaboration.