Media professionals are struggling to cope with job stress and exposure to trauma, exacerbated during the pandemic, but there is lack of mental health-wellness support across the industry, according to the findings of recent research.
Nine out of ten respondents in a survey released by the Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma said they felt greater stress than usual and eight in ten reported burnout.
Moreover, 70% of participants in another survey across 125 countries by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, identified the mental health impacts of covering COVID-19 as the most difficult challenge.
The pandemic was a catalyst for quite a few in the media to recognize a problematic workplace culture and start taking steps to seek help, Kim Brice, co-founder of Self- Investigation, a foundation launched two years ago offering stress management training to media professionals, told Moonshot News.
Stress is an overwhelming and ever-present hazard, with 57% of 1,251 media workers who took part in the Taking Care survey conducted by the Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma, reporting the daily grind is difficult to manage.
“Across gender, age, job role and racial identity, no one appears immune from stress, as many said work-related stress became worse during the pandemic. Stress levels worsened among women and people who identify as Asian, Black, and Indigenous felt more stress, too”, the report says.
59% of women and 42% of men have sought professional medical help to cope with work-related issues and manage their mental well-being.
One in two felt they could not take breaks, as “taking time off was a sign of weakness or lack of commitment.” 46% of respondents are considered to be at “higher risk” for alcohol use issues, compared with 27% of the general Canadian population. One in 10 media professionals surveyed have thought about suicide after covering difficult stories.
ABSENCE OF SUPPORT
85% of the 1,000 participants in the ICFJ-Tow Center research reported a vacuum of psychological counselling and burnout alleviation measures in media organizations.
One in seven said they had personally sought psychological support to help them through the period.
Nine out of ten of Taking Care respondents said they did not get trauma training in journalism school or at work.
“Will we, in the public interest, set an example to other industries? Or will we still act as though journalists are somehow different from the rest of humanity, immune to the effects of what we do and what we witness? Good mental health and good journalism go hand-in-hand”, Cliff Lonsdale, President, Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma, said, presenting the report.
“What I found shocking about this is not just the results, but the fact that these are the results in a country with resources in media companies. Imagine what the situation is in cultures where this is even more taboo or no resources available. One quote that really strikes me is that it is the conditions at work that some people found more stressful than the potential vicarious trauma you can get from the issues you work in and the images you are exposed to”, Kim Brice said.
HUMAN GIVER SYNDROME/ DISCRIMINATION
Statistics indicate that women are more susceptible to burnout than men. For Brice it makes perfect sense, because most women tend to have the human giver syndrome. Simply put “everything else, everyone else, is more important than me”.
Moreover, women are more susceptible to discrimination, which is also stressful and anxiety provoking, and women of colour are even more susceptible and at risk of high levels of pressure, she explained.
Working with journalists for over 20 years, Brice was shocked with the work culture she heard about. In recent years as a personal development coach, she worked a lot with investigative journalists. That is how she met Mar Cabra, another co-founder of Self-Investigation.
“I coached her following a burnout that led to her leaving the journalism industry completely.
She had just won the Pulitzer Prize, along with many others, on the work that she and others did on the Panama Papers. I coached her for over a year and a half through her process of redefining her way forward”, she said.
Brice had been knocking on doors of media organizations for years, trying to persuade people to take the issue of stress management and wellbeing seriously.
“Until the pandemic, everyone said ‘yes, but we have no time, we have no money’. And suddenly pandemic strikes. And Mar called me and said ‘this is the moment’. We joined forces at a time when suddenly it was harder for people to dismiss this issue. The pandemic was the catalyst for the media industry or some individuals in the media industry to invest some time and resources into these issues”, she said.
Self- Investigation provides a comprehensive training to address a number of issues that are related to stress and that helps not decrease stress, but to relate to the stressors in our lives in a healthier, more skillful way, Brice explains.
There is a self-paced online training program that is designed to be taken over four weeks. It includes videos with factual information and exercises one can do. People can sign up at any time for the course “How to be a healthy journalist in an always-on culture”.
Self-Investigation also designs courses for newsrooms, for teams, according to their needs, and offers one on one coaching sessions. More than 2,000 journalists have enrolled so far, finding guidance to healthier work habits.
“We called it the Self-investigation, because journalists are curious, gather facts about the world outside, about the issues they know about, they care about… Now it is time to investigate yourself, to get the facts, to learn everything there is to learn about what will help you live and work well”, she said.
Asked to share a few of the main recommendations to find the way forward, Brice said:
– “First of all, it is being okay that you’re not okay, that you feel like you’re not able to cope with everything. It is normal and it is natural. One of the things that gets people into trouble, in a situation where they are under chronic stress and which may lead to burnout, is that they do not see the signs. They do not feel the signs or they do not want to see the signs”.
– “Number two is you are as important as your work. Because we only get one body in our lives. That’s it. Only one. And this is what enables us to do everything that we do. So, if you want to produce good journalism, if you want to do the work you love, because most journalists love their job, you need to learn to take care of yourself”.
– “Take regular breaks at work. Give yourself recovery time throughout the day and after work. And recovery time is not sitting around drinking the 17th cup of coffee. You are not allowing your body to recover. If that is all that you do when you’re tired, that’s not helpful. Learn how to bring the nervous system down so that the body can be in a more relaxed state. Stop, take a slow walk in nature or do some breathing exercises”.
Brice comes from the U.S. and has been living in the Netherlands for the past 20 years. She has lived in high levels of anxiety from a young age. She has worked in war zones and after many years she discovered she was suffering of trauma related stress. And then, she went through a divorce.
She realized that for far too long she was on high alert, couldn’t sleep well. “My mind could not shut off and it was like my body did not know how to relax anymore”.
She went back to school, studied about stress and is “still learning to relate to anxiety in a healthier way, in a way that makes it more manageable. It is a lifelong process. At every stage, you learn something, you apply it, it helps. But there are no quick fixes, unfortunately”.