Dean Lindsey on the Vital Role of Journalists in Highlighting Mental Health Disparities

Dean Lindsey seated next to Michelle Levander in conversation at a table covered in a red table cloth in front of a whiteboard
Dean Lindsey and Michelle Levander seated at the front of a large classroom with conference attendees seated at long white desks listening attentively

LOS ANGELES, CA, July 20, 2023 —Journalists have a vital role to play in shedding light on mental health disparities, one that goes hand in hand with the role that researchers play, said NYU Silver Dean Michael A. Lindsey at the USC Center for Health Journalism’s 2023 National Fellows Conference. “When, as a researcher, I call out the fact that data is telling us that there are disparities, oftentimes the next step is asking why,” explained Dean Lindsey, who is a noted scholar in the fields of child and adolescent mental health. “What do these numbers mean? Who are they impacting? If we don't do anything about them, what would happen?”

Dr. Lindsey shared his insights during a Q&A session on trends in youth mental health disparities with Michelle Levander, the Founding Director of the Center, which is based at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. The audience was composed of Fellows at various stages in their health journalism careers from media outlets including The New York Times, NBC News, Milwaukee Sentinel, Inside Climate News, Washington City Paper, The Root, Word in Black, and others.

Dean Lindsey noted that mental health researchers focus on uncovering data that illustrate disparities, trends, and the effectiveness of interventions, but that is generally a lengthy process. “Sometimes we’re waiting for data to be available, we’re mining data, we’re waiting for our articles to go through a peer review process that can take up to six to eight months.”

By contrast, Dean Lindsey said, journalists are more nimble in their capability to draw attention to disparities: “You can get that information out faster.” He made the case that by taking the data provided by researchers—and doing a careful job of conveying the nuances it may contain—the press plays a powerful role in investigating and publicizing the reasons behind trends; connecting the dots between those trends and the policies and resource allocations that shape outcomes; and highlighting the human stories that bring news to life.

The focus of this year’s National Fellows Conference was on health disparities with presentations from a wide range of experts in health equity. Each Fellow is working on a related in-depth reporting project with topics including mental health, maternal health, environmental justice, effects of climate change, effects of structural racism, and opioid use.