2021 National Media Award Winners

Duane K. L. France, MA, LPC and Doc Shauna Springer, Ph.D.
1st Place Winner
Best Broadcast: Podcast
Submission: Seeking the Military Suicide Solution Podcast- Episode 50
Summary: Seeking the Military Suicide Solution is a limited-series podcast produced in partnership with Military Times, a leading national media outlet providing information to service members, veterans, and their families. The podcast is a 52-episode series produced throughout 2020.

The show is hosted by Duane France, a combat veteran and clinical mental health counselor, and Dr. Shauna Springer, a nationally recognized expert on suicide prevention in the military affiliated population. Each episode contains an interview with a guest related to suicide prevention, and Dr. Springer and Mr. France explore specific themes that each guest addressed.

STMSS hosted a wide range of guests, including executive leadership at the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense Suicide Prevention Office; individuals with lived experience of both attempt survival and suicide loss; researchers at the national level addressing suicide prevention, and community members applying research at the local level.

One of the primary goals of the overall project was to identify emergent themes from among the guests. Throughout the series of episodes, nearly 200 quotes were categorized into eleven different areas. These include: identifying risk factors and warning signs, coordination and collaboration, reaching out to support, lethal means safety, and the importance of connectedness in preventing suicide. By the end of the series, the primary theme that stood out above all others: Genuine Connectedness Saves Lives.

The podcast was widely distributed and well received. The show received over 16,000 downloads throughout 2020; the average downloads per episode were 167 within the first seven days and 221 in the first thirty days. According to podcast hosting platform Buzzsprout, a podcast episode that has more than 72 downloads within the first seven days is within the top 25% of all podcasts. As this show is a narrowly defined topic for a narrowly defined audience, the response to the show has been extremely positive.

Paul Allor, Chris Evenhuis, and Brittany Peer, IDW Publishing
1st Place Winner

Best Digital Creative Media
Submission: G.I. JOE #7, “A Soldier’s Heart” (August 2020)
Summary: Suicide in the military affiliated population in the United States has become a significant focus of national attention in the past twenty years. As suicide deaths and rates in the general population have continued to increase, the rate of suicide in service members, veterans, and their families have correspondingly increased. According to a study released in 2020 by the RAND corporation, the suicide rate among the U.S. Armed Forces has nearly doubled since 2005. While awareness campaigns have continued to attempt to address the growing severity of the situation, there is still much work to be done.

The iconic brand of G.I. Joe has a place in the popular culture of the United States. G.I. Joe comic strips and comic books have been published in every decade since 1942.

It is our honor to present G.I. Joe #7 as our entry for the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education National Media Award. This single-issue comic book by IDW Publishing, licensed under Hasbro, Inc., was published in August of 2020.

G.I. Joe #7: A Soldier’s Heart is a story that incorporates many aspects of suicide prevention. The issue looks at the psychological impact of combat and the struggles that some former service members experience in post-military life. Characters in the story demonstrate peer support, encourage appropriate help-seeking behavior, and appropriate methods of prevention of access to lethal means.

The full spectrum of suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention is presented in the story. The Center for Disease Control’s Preventing Suicide technical package of policies, programs and practices provides guidance on how to address suicide across populations. These include establishing a protective environment, strengthen access and delivery of care, promoting connectedness, and implementing appropriate responses after a suicide loss. During the story, a character who had seemingly been doing well dies by suicide, but the writer and artists present the event in a non-gratuitous manner. Many of the recommendations provided by the CDC are evident in the story and address the precursors, impact, and recovery after a suicide loss in an appropriate manner.

G.I. Joe #7 was well-received by the military suicide prevention support community. In partnership with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Service Member, Veteran, and Military Family Technical Assistance Center, suicide prevention advocates around the country utilized the issue to further awareness and discussion of appropriate suicide prevention practices. State and local suicide prevention experts identified the issue as an affirming and accessible way for members of the military affiliated population to address the topic of suicide.

G.I. Joe #7 was also made widely available to the public for free during September, Suicide Prevention Month.

1st Place Winner
Best Investigative Reporting: Multimedia
Submission: Locked in Limbo, A Catalyst Project
Summary: Every year, thousands of mentally ill men and women languish in Texas’ county jails. Incapable of standing trial, they wait in line behind hundreds of other people — sometimes over a year — for a bed in a state hospital to get the help they need. As Texas’ population booms, its leaders have recognized this problem is also growing, but their efforts to shrink the backlog have failed. In 2019, the number of people stuck on the state’s waitlist — with their cases stalled and constitutional rights possibly violated — reached historic levels. KXAN’s “Locked in Limbo” investigation highlighted the stories of the families caught up in this broken system and the state’s struggle to find solutions.

During our investigation, state lawmakers vowed to further explore the success of other options for mental competency restoration, like jail-based and outpatient treatment, to speed up the system and ensure its effectiveness. Those leaders have discussed the possibility of new legislation in 2021 and grants to help fund the programs.

Multi-platform Project:
• We produced a three-part investigative docuseries on families impacted by this problem, along with two additional videos focusing on solutions to mental health treatment in jails.
• The third season of our weekly investigative podcast, also called “Catalyst,” accompanies the series, taking a closer look at one specific case – a veteran who bounced between jail and state hospital for nearly four years.
• We wrote an immersive, long-form article with photos and data features to further analyze the number of inmates on the state ’s wait list and how long they’re waiting. It also explores a mother’s three-month fight to get her son into a state hospital after he wielded sword in front of her during a “delusional” episode.
• Additionally, we built a mental health resource page for Texans looking for help in this area. It includes links to a variety of mental health and criminal justice groups with expertise on navigating the system.
• Other content we created includes: a “Why Investigate Now?” video to explain why our team decided to tackle this topic during the coronavirus pandemic, a handful of other articles taking a hyper-focus on some of the other problems we discovered during our investigation, and a half-hour on-air special.

For almost a year, KXAN chipped away at this project – even as COVID-19 hit the state and forced us to find new ways to complete the work. We interviewed more than a dozen people for this project – individuals experiencing the issue and their families, mental health advocates, legal experts, and county and state officials. We requested jail records and rosters from dozens of Texas counties, including the numbers of inmates in Central Texas jails who were awaiting transfer to state mental health facilities. We also parsed years of data collected by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, federal lawsuits over the state ’s wait list, state-commissioned reports on the hospital system, legislative grants and state spending records on new mental hospitals.