Grantee Spotlight: Bobby Brier of NJ Spotlight News

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As a reporter for NJ Spotlight News, Bobby Brier covers “the mental health beat” – bringing readers a comprehensive perspective on this vital issue.  A grant from HFNJ helps to support his beat.

1) Can give of us a snapshot of your typical day of work? How do you stay on top of developments in mental healthcare in New Jersey?

My typical workday includes researching articles and reaching out to local, state and/or national sources by phone, email and text in the morning to schedule and conduct interviews. My mornings also involve attending daily meetings with colleagues in the newsroom to touch base on any stories we are working on. 

Additionally, I’m reading through any emails, news stories and alerts related to state and national news throughout the day, especially if they pertain to mental health and the health care industry.

While on deadline, I’m writing in the mornings and conducting any outstanding interviews before filing the story in the afternoon. I am also fact-checking and making sure the story is in the best shape possible before sending it off to my editors.

After filing a story and when I am not on deadline, my afternoons and evenings involve speaking with my editors and colleagues on stories that are in progress, researching any data related to mental health that could be used for a current or future story and reaching out to more sources via phone, email or text to conduct interviews. I also reach out to sources frequently to catch up and ask if they have any new updates regarding stories we have spoken about in the past.

2) Are there any new and innovative approaches to the delivery of mental health services that you’ve reported on?

Yes. One approach that I will be reporting on in the near future is the use of artificial intelligence in mental health therapy. For some people, the use of artificial intelligence apps and chat bots may be able to help with loneliness, social isolation and mental health issues. But for others, the use of this technology may raise concerns on how best to deliver mental health services to people who need them.

I will also continue to report on the use of telehealth for mental health services and what the future of telehealth therapy may look like as we continue through the ongoing pandemic. Telehealth made tremendous gains during the pandemic but faces increased barriers as the end of the federal public health emergency approaches on May 11, 2023. Providers are using various innovative techniques to prevent a gap in services, especially for substance use disorders and rural communities lacking services.  

3) Since starting your beat, what has most surprised you about the topics you cover?

I have been most surprised by people’s eagerness to share their stories with me about their own mental health journeys and the ways in which they see the state and country moving forward from a mental health perspective. I greatly appreciate the time and consideration people have taken when speaking with me. It is not easy to speak about mental health issues, but having these conversations can lead to more people receiving the help they need

4) You have done excellent reporting on the controversy around the State’s plan to change school-based mental health programs in NJ. What can we expect to see in the next year on this front?

Governor Murphy proposed $43 million in his upcoming budget for fiscal year 2024 to create the regional “hub and spoke” model that aims to provide mental health services to more students throughout the state. This model will be built out while the state continues to fund the school-based youth services programs that are currently in 90 schools statewide. I think we can expect to see the state continue to build out this new model while advocates and school officials in favor of the current school-based youth services remain skeptical of the new program because it has never been tested and because there is a shortage of mental health professionals across the state. Advocates have also said that this new model will exclude some of the most vulnerable students in the state who rely on the current mental health services offered in schools. So, this will also play a major factor in the ongoing debate over school-based mental health services.

5) Can you share with us some of the other major ongoing story lines or developments you expect to be monitoring throughout 2023 – particularly around the emerging crisis in youth mental health?

Some of the major storylines I will continue to follow are the developments around teen suicide prevention and what school officials, parents and caregivers plan to do to address the high rates of suicide, especially among young people of color and LGBTQ+ youth. Additionally, I will continue to follow the debate over school-based youth services statewide and the conversations that are taking place among advocates and state officials about how best to deliver mental health services to students.

The lack of mental health professionals and the need for more people in the industry will be another story that I will continue to monitor closely. Workforce shortages on all levels of behavioral health are affecting providers across the board, especially in settings like schools or homes.

I will also be following the state’s expansion of a pilot program that pairs a police officer with a mental health therapist when responding to a mental health emergency. Some police officers have welcomed the idea of responding to a behavioral health crisis with a mental health professional, while advocates have said that police should not be involved at all when responding to a mental health crisis.

6) A grant from HFNJ helps to support your beat, including support for your editors. Can you describe how the NJ Spotlight News team is supporting your development as a journalist?

The NJ Spotlight News team has been an incredible group of colleagues to work with and it has truly been a privilege to learn from so many talented editors and journalists. Since I started, I was always supported in my role as a mental health journalist and have grown to become a better reporter and writer because of their guidance.

Each day, I speak with my editors and colleagues about stories I am working on and these conversations have given me new ideas and new angles to pursue that have led me to report stories with more nuance and depth. I receive feedback from editors on my stories that have helped me to grow as a writer by writing with clarity and consistency for a statewide audience.  

I have also grown as a multimedia reporter overall by doing on-camera interviews with a great broadcast team. It has been a great privilege to work at NJ Spotlight News and to continue to hone my skills in journalism.

Last modified: March 27, 2023