Violence meted against journalists bear not only physical but also psychological consequences. Also, Journalists are often on the frontlines of some of the world’s most challenging events, from crime scenes and road accidents to natural disasters and wars. Now, journalists around the world are working overtime to cover the COVID-19 pandemic. Dependent on their beat and time in the field, journalists are exposed to scenes and images of trauma that can have profound implications for their psychological health.
Covering these stories, whether major international stories or events much closer to home, can have an impact on those who do the reporting, leading to issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in some cases, but more likely anxiety, stress and burnout.
For example, Journalism and Pandemic Survey conducted by the ICFJ revealed that 82 per cent of journalists reported at least one negative emotional or psychological reaction as a result of the pandemic. Similarly, nearly three quarters (70 per cent) said the emotional and psychological impacts of dealing with covid-19 were the most difficult part of their work.
Other studies have noted prolonged substance abuse among some war correspondents and journalists working with user-generated content, who frequently witness images of graphic violence. Those journalists covering drug-related conflict and war correspondents are most at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychiatric symptoms as a direct result of their work.
Therefore, being at the forefront of these issues has exposed journalists to a lot of risk. The following is a practical approach recommended by experts for professionals to avoid mental health challenges in the course of their work.
- Practicing personal psychosocial care every day. According to experts, psychosocial self-care should become part of journalists’ and human rights defenders’ daily routine. It should not be limited to the time immediately before, during, or after a potentially stressful and emotionally exhausting assignment.
- Documenting things you feel grateful for in a gratitude journal can help you recalibrate your brain chemistry and get rid of excess stress hormones. It also helps control fears for things that are out of your control. Experts say this helps to identify and save your strength for things that are under your control.
- Practice self-care on a daily basis. Try meditating, doing yoga, or using other stress-management exercises. Creating a “safe space” in your mind allows you to escape and find relaxation in moments of intense stress and exhaustion.
Journalistic assignments can be complex and each assignment comes with its challenges depending on the subject therein. These are the tips to consider for assignments
Before an assignment,
- Be mindful of your basic needs, such as getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, and eating a healthful diet. This is all the more important if you don’t know how long the assignment will last.
- Learn to work on all personal matters to help you focus more clearly on the task at hand and reduce further anxiety or stress while in the field.
- Learn to say “no” and setting proper expectations with your supervisors and your team. Being on the same page and knowing exactly what is expected of you will mitigate stress.
- Be self-aware and have a clear understanding of where you personally stand with your attitudes, triggers, strengths, and weaknesses regarding your assignment.
- Map out the actors you are likely to encounter, and make yourself aware of potential prejudices and preconceptions you might have about the people you are about to engage with.
- Maintain a healthy work–life balance and dedicate time to tending to your support network of family and friends.
- Make time for hobbies and other activities that you enjoy, since they can serve as positive coping mechanisms. Avoid quick “fixes” that harm you in the long run, such as alcohol and drugs.
During an assignment,
- Take care of your physical well-being first. Always carry enough drinking water to stay hydrated and “cool down” in moments of extreme stress, high adrenaline, and anxiety.
- Recognize that feelings of fear, anger, emotional numbing, and altered body sensations are perfectly normal. All people feel them when under stress. Remember that your body and mind are in survival mode when on an assignment. That means that whatever decisions your mind or body make for your safety are reasonable responses to external circumstances.
- Trust your body, soul, and your “gut feeling.”
- There is no reason to prove something to yourself or others, or to feel guilty or ashamed.
After an assignment,
- Dedicate time to your psychosocial well-being, and address stress, burnout, and trauma you might have experienced from the assignment. Be aware that not feeling “normal” after a stressful or traumatic experience is perfectly normal.
- Pay particular attention to talking about your experiences. Allow yourself to vent your emotions—for instance, by discussing your experience with friends and colleagues, or by writing in your diary. If you need further support, seek professional help.
The International Journalists Network has recommended the following tips for journalists to stay afloat to avoid mental health crisis.
Tips on how journalists can address their own mental health:
You are not immune
Journalists are first responders. When there’s trouble, others may run away from a scene but journalists rush towards it. In order to stay resilient and effective, it’s important to remember that stress can be accumulated over periods of time.
Staying attuned to your own emotional health, and not ignoring signs that you need support, will allow you to catch any issues that arise and manage them appropriately.
Know the signs
Everyone has old bad habits, signature strengths and pre-existing vulnerabilities. Experts have suggested making note of all of these and using them to make a plan on how to cope during a crisis — like the one we’re facing now — or while reporting on traumatic topics.
At this point, everyone has heard about “flattening the curve” of the COVID-19 pandemic, but experts say there’s also a similar curve to measure the amount of stress journalists face. While a certain amount of stress is healthy and motivating, such as looming deadlines, too much can lead to crashing, breakdowns or burnout.
Flattening the stress curve will greatly enhance our ability to effectively function professionally, and our ability to cope well psychologically
Allow yourself some downtime when you aren’t working, which can be more difficult when working remotely.
Schedule your day so you have short breaks, and take unexpected breaks to allow yourself 10-15 minutes to pause.