Two students from Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q) – Maryam Al-Badr and Saad Ejaz – were awarded a year-long Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism, sponsored by the Carter Center and the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH).

The fellowship program was established to train journalists on reporting ethically and accurately about issues related to mental health. WISH partnered with the Carter Center on this fellowship in 2016, to provide young journalists in Qatar with the opportunity to receive professional training in the field.

The fellowships, established by former U.S. First Lady Rosalynn Carter, are “a coveted honor that recognize the promise of the students selected and also provide inspiration for better coverage of the human condition,” said Everette E. Dennis, dean and CEO of NU-Q. While at the Atlanta Center the students met Mrs. Carter and benefitted from new knowledge and access to experts in the mental health field.  

“Having spent time at the Carter Center at the time this program was inaugurated, I know what a beacon it is for good works and a better world,” the dean said.

As part of the fellowship program, Al-Badr and Ejaz traveled to the U.S. to attend a series of workshops, lectures, and panel discussions on various topics in mental health journalism at the Carter Center’s headquarters.

Both Al-Badr and Ejaz cited their science and health journalism class as a crucial factor in introducing them to the inner workings of health journalism.

Al-Badr, who plans to create a better understanding of mental health in her community, described the fellowship as “an inspiration to other people to start the conversation about how mental health should not be stigmatized.”

“I would like to break down the barriers and see how language plays into Arab women’s mental health and to explore the relationship between mental health wellness and the balance between family and work commitments among Arab women,” she said.

At the Carter Center, Al-Badr plans to learn more about the question of ethics in the industry from journalists who have expertise in this field.

Meanwhile, Ejaz said that he plans to explore “the relationship between mental health and religion.”  He explained that this interest stems from his personal experience growing up in Pakistan, where the subject of mental illness is neglected.

“Pakistan is a country of 200 million people, but there are only 346 psychiatrists,” Ejaz said, pointing out that the lack of resources can be traced to local misconceptions surrounding mental health in his community. “People in Pakistan don’t acknowledge mental illness as a real disease and instead associate it with supernatural forces or a person’s lack of religious observance,” he said.

As a fellow, Ejaz plans to spend the next year developing meaningful networks with professionals in the field of mental health journalism and explore best practices for reporting and investigating controversial and sensitive topics like mental health.