Stories probing America’s mental health crisis and rising suicide rate among Black teens win recognition

Christina Caron, a reporter for the Well section at The New York Times, has won this year’s National Press Foundation’s Carolyn C. Mattingly award for her coverage of how COVID affected U.S. mental health in 2021, particularly among Black teenagers. The judges cited Caron’s stories about the rising suicide rate among Black youth as “crucial information for a historically excluded group” that was much affected by the pandemic, yet where stigma often deters those who need help.

Caron’s coverage helped expose the myth that teen suicidal behavior is “a white thing.”  She probed why self-reported suicide attempts by Black teens have increased by 79% between 1991 and 2019, while the rate of attempts among adolescents of other races and ethnicities did not change significantly. And she delved into research revealing that suicide attempts among Black girls aged 12-14 had soared sixfold, suggesting that something different – including possibly bullying—is threatening kids in that age group.

Judges also lauded the New York Times for partnering with Psychology Today to survey 1,320 therapists around the country, eliciting valuable information about what they were hearing from their increasingly anxious and isolated patients. That story was bylined by Times reporters Tara Parker-Pope, Caron and Mónica Cordero Sancho.

The NPF judges were Laura Trujillo, author and managing editor at USA Today; Steven Petrow, longtime Washington Post health contributor; and Kari Cobham, formerly of the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism and Media at The Carter Center, now at The 19th. Cobham noted that the Times stories displayed mental health reporting best practices, including appropriate language when reporting on suicide and resources – not just reporting on a problem but giving parents and others tips on where to seek help.

Caron later wrote about the lessons she learned about the ethics of covering suicide, including that such stories should not use the words “commit’ suicide, as this implies a crime, and should not describe the method of suicide.

The Carolyn C. Mattingly Award was established by The National Press Foundation and The Luv u Project in 2015 to honor Carolyn’s memory as a tireless philanthropist and activist. The award recognizes exemplary journalism that illuminates and advances the understanding of mental health issues and treatments for the illness and carries a $10,000 prize.

Last year’s winner was Dan Boyce of Colorado Public Radio, for an audio documentary of his own descent in depression and his recovery. In 2019, Susan Greene and Niki Turner won for a series on the killing of a mentally ill man by a Colorado police officer and a small town’s attempt to silence it.