News collaborative to examine mental health challenges and solutions in Southwest Michigan

KALAMAZOO, MI — Local news outlets in Southwest Michigan are working together to enhance the news landscape and promote diversity and inclusion of voices among and news sources.

The group of news media outlets and organizations is called the Southwest Michigan Journalism Collaborative, and its first major project focuses on mental health.

“This mental health project is a big step forward for the Collaborative,” said Mickey Ciokajlo, director of local news for MLive, which includes the Kalamazoo Gazette. “It gives us a focus area to turn our attention to as we learn to work more closely with each other covering important issues in the community.”

The collaborative began assembling in 2019 to determine how, in today’s landscape of shrinking news organizations and staffs, local media leaders could work together to tell the most critical stories in our community.

Since the first meeting in 2019, members of the collaborative have published joint families reporting on solutions to homelessness and a back-to-school series examining how to address barriers to academic success for and students whose primary language is Spanish.

Along with MLive/Kalamazoo Gazette, the members of the Collaborative include Community Voices, Encore Magazine, Kalamazoo Community, Foundation, New/Nueva Opinion, NowKalamazoo, Public Media Network, Southwest Michigan Second Wave, Watershed Voice, WMU School of Communication, WMU Student Media Group, WMUK Public Radio 102.1 FM.

In September 2021, the collaborative received a $100,000 grant from the Solutions Journalism Network to launch the Mental Wellness Project. SJN is an organization focused on facilitating and encouraging the practice of solutions journalism through rigorous reporting on responses to social problems.

The collaborative was also awarded a $27,500 from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation to support the work. The Mental Wellness Project is the first SWMJC project that will have reporting and involvement from all collaborative partners and will examine the limited access to mental health services due to social stigma, a shortage of mental health professionals — especially mental health professionals who are culturally competent — and the availability and affordability of high-quality services to meet the gap in access.

As a solutions journalism effort, the reporting in the SWMJC’s Mental Wellness Project will provide stories and information that help people understand problems and challenges and that show potential ways to respond. The Mental Wellness Project will pay special attention to the crisis brought on by social isolation and loneliness related to COVID-19.

Stories that are part of the project are published by collaborative partners on their own media platforms as well as on the SWMJC website at swmichjournalism.com.

“The ongoing pandemic has increased mental health care needs, while simultaneously restricting access,” said Kathy Jennings, managing editor of Second Wave Media of Southwest Michigan. “The severity of the current mental health situation has gone largely uncovered in our market.”

In addition, the collaborative has hosted three editorial advisory meetings, meeting community members and mental health care providers who help to provide collaborative members with an accurate picture of what is and isn’t working in regards to mental health access and treatment in our community.

To guide the work and execution of the funded project, SWMJC recently welcomed Melinda Clynes as project manager and editor. Clynes has worked as a freelance writer and marketing consultant for 30 years.

“I’m really thrilled to take on this role with Southwest Michigan Journalism Collaborative and its Mental Wellness Project,” Clynes said. “It’s a privilege to work with the smart, engaged and leaders who are part of the collaborative and to meet community members who can share their concerns with us. With these two components at play, we have an amazing opportunity to elevate the discussion about how to improve access to mental health services to build healthier, happier communities.”

More on MLive:

Saying these words could help someone who is contemplating suicide

How to be happier: 13 ways to improve your mental health

12 tips on finding mental-health care that you can afford

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