Lauren Chooljian: Let's normalize mental health support for journalists

Advocacy, Awards,

Lauren Chooljian

Lauren Chooljian, a senior reporter and producer at New Hampshire Public Radio, advocated for mental health support for journalists during her First Amendment Awards acceptance speech last month in Washington, D.C. 

“I often think about a note that my grandmother wrote me when I had my daughter …” Chooljian said March 9 at the Watergate Hotel. “She told me that in order to take care of her, I had to take care of myself. And so if I may, I think that that wisdom really deeply applies to what I, to what we all do. I want to encourage and normalize that newsrooms should invest in mental health support.”

Chooljian is the host and reporter behind The 13th Step, a podcast about sexual misconduct in the addiction treatment industry. The RTDNA Foundation selected Chooljian for a First Amendment Award because of her unflinching reporting on sexual misconduct allegations facing the owner of one of New England’s largest providers of addiction treatment. In the wake of her reporting, Chooljian was subjected to multiple instances of vandalism, threatening graffiti and a libel lawsuit.

During her acceptance speech, Chooljian honored several individuals who played a pivotal role in the development of the podcast and supported her when there was backlash. 

She also praised her managers at NHPR, who brought in a trauma therapist to meet the editorial team.

“Sometimes I say that and people are like, ‘Are you serious?’” Chooljian said. “And I'm like, ‘Yes, I'm serious,’ and I would do it again. It was the most essential thing for us to feel that we could take this story on in a healthy way."

Chooljian said the trauma therapist worked with newsroom employees on how trauma impacts the brain, how it affects systems and teams. She says the mental health support made them stronger and healthier journalists.

“We reporters in this room, we're always going to run towards the conflict,” Chooljian said. “We're going to uncover the secrets people don't want us to tell. So we have to take care of ourselves to be able to tell other people's stories.”

Watch her full speech below.

(Photo: BP Miller / Chorus Photography)