Why journalists need to care for their mental health
In previous decades, numerous academic articles have examined the mental health toll on journalists and found ample evidence to support why journalists need to pay attention to their mental health.
As a journalist that recently reported on the gay club shooting that occurred at Club Q in Colorado Springs on Nov. 19, I have personally felt the mental health effects of being a journalist.
Studies show that not only are journalists more likely to develop PTSD from their jobs, but the mental health of journalists is overall not addressed, as there are very few studies on what can be done to address this issue.
Reporting on a mass shooting
The weekend before Thanksgiving I was planning on using my days off to prepare food early and spend time with my kids. Until I woke up at 5:00 a.m. to see that a mass shooting had occurred 7 minutes from my home, at an LGBTQ bar in Colorado Springs.
Five were dead, 25 others injured. Since I worked at the local news station, I was quickly asked to work. Being the Sunday before Thanksgiving week, we were already short-staffed.
Being the first mass shooting I’ve ever reported on, I never expected the effects on my mental health over the coming days. As journalists, we learn to implement a sort of indifference to the news we report daily. Car thefts, armed burglaries, even most violent crime – we see it, we report on it, but it doesn’t really affect us.
Until – it does. Throughout the week, there were multiple times when I was working for hours and hours with no problems, until I read a single sentence or listened to an interview with a victim, and out of nowhere I would break down crying.
Three straight days writing articles on the mass shooting, including interviews with survivors, updates on the suspected shooter, and live updates, took its toll. I also optimized and posted to social-media all web content we published on the shooting.
>> Club Q survivor is “happy to be alive”
Until writing on this event, I never realized the true potential for mental health burnout among journalists. I always thought these worries were concentrated among crime/breaking-news reporters, who spend day in and day out reporting on tragedy.
However, many times just being a part of the newsroom exposes you to more violent crime and sad news than you can healthily be exposed to.
4 ways for journalists to support their mental health
- Ensure you get time-off when needed.
It’s imperative to take the time off to disconnect from the constant news stream. Turn off your work-emails notifications – or your phone if you need to – and take some much needed personal time to recharge before returning to work. Pay attention to your mental health and take time off when you need it.
- Invest in self-care
During your time off (or even while working depending on your choice of self-care) find something that provides you some peace of mind and relaxation. Whether it’s investing in a hobby, a massage/spa day/ or otherwise, don’t forget to treat yourself as well.
- Seek professional help
If you work for a newsroom, ensure they provide comprehensive medical benefits that include mental health care and that they support your mental health. As an example, my newsroom recently announced they would be bringing in a counselor to the newsroom for us to visit if we needed, following the shooting.
- Be aware of the resources available to you
There are numerous resources available to journalists to help them with mental health concerns related to being a journalist. Journalist Resource provides a comprehensive list of resources for journalists mental health, including Trauma & Journalism, a 31-page guide from Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma.
My first experience being aware that the news was really impacting me was in Roanoke, VA when a reporter and photographer at our competitor station were killed by a former coworker of theirs during a live broadcast. I definitely spend up to an hour a day worrying about our crews in the field and/or that something horrible will air live on-air or online.
That’s another aspect many, even myself at times, struggle to take into consideration – the physical danger journalists also experience within our jobs as well.