By Sandy K. Johnson

Three Florida reporters shared their tips on covering mental health issues – expertise gained while they were reporting on rising violence at mental health institutions.

The reporters – Leonora LaPeter Anton and Anthony Cormier of the Tampa Bay Times and Michael Braga of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune – won a Pulitzer Prize and NPF’s Carolyn C. Mattingly Award for Mental Health Reporting for their work.

Their suggestions:

Finding data on mental illness: state critical incident reports, police reports, hospital inspections, inspector general reports, personnel files, prosecutor files.

Useful records: (These may be more difficult to obtain.) Psychiatric assessments, staff notes, personnel files, management reviews, vendor contracts. States may keep records of total medications administered, including types of drugs and the cost of drugs.

Other avenues to pursue: homelessness, diagnoses and treatment, costs, community-based care and the ways police officers interact with mentally ill people.

If you’re thinking about doing mental health reporting in your state, recognize that the agency in charge of mental health may have the ability to change its reporting requirements without legislative approval. In Florida’s case, for example, the Department of Children and Families stopped reporting some of the most violent incidents to the legislature. As a result, the journalists built their own incident databases to document the rise in violence, which made it difficult for officials to refute.