By Kim Brice- A mental health expert.

NEWSDAILYNIGERIA: From post-traumatic stress disorder to depression, journalists are often struggling with mental health. We spoke to experts to understand the gravity and remedies

The subject of mental health continues to be taboo across fields. It is rarely discussed and this is more so the case with journalism. Given the competitive nature of this profession, media workers can be quite reluctant to talk about the difficulties they encounter in their day-to-day lives.

Recent studies have established fairly well that journalists are facing a mental health crisis. From breaking news, front-line reporting and broadcasting to sports, business and politics, every type of journalism has its own set of challenges. Freelancing, though seldom talked about, is worse off for additional reasons. A lack of healthcare and financial stability pushes freelance journalists to work constantly and not take breaks.

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A 2017 Council of Europe study titled “Journalists under pressure – Unwarranted interference, fear and self-censorship in Europe (2017)” was a first of its kind and shed light on the issue of mental health and psychological pressures faced by journalists. With the ushering of the digital age, these issues have only become more prevalent.

To understand the impact of psychological pressures on journalists, we spoke with a co-founder of a non-profit foundation that promotes a healthy work culture, a war reporter and the general secretary of Europe’s largest federation of journalists.

The issues faced by journalists include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and self-censorship. And it seems that everyone has their own way of coping with these.

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“Speaking out cuts that stigma,” says Kim Brice who runs the foundation called The Self-Investigation. The foundation’s goal is to address mental health issues in the media, and its data says that 60% of the media workers report a “high level” of anxiety.

In its training sessions, the foundation helps journalists deal with that anxiety by talking about what it calls “psychological safety” and “duty of care”; Brice explains the three main aspects of the latter.

First, “there is a duty of care that we have towards ourselves: this body and this mind that we get is the only one we have for the rest of our lives, and it’s what allows us to do everything that we do everyday,” she says. “So if you love your work, you have a duty to care for that body and that mind if you want to sustain doing what you love and care about.”

The second duty of care is from the individual to the collective. The journalists should be able to ask what they need from their managers. The third aspect is the responsibility of the managers towards their teams. The managers have a duty to create a safe work environment and put systems in place to help their employees, proactively. “These issues are often noticed but go unaddressed,” Brice adds.

Daniel (name changed at his request to protect anonymity), a freelance journalist who reports on war, concurs with Brice on most of these points. “I have strong PTSD and heightened anxiety,” he says. “Apart from talking to your colleagues about it, you don’t really know what to do”

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Daniel has now been in therapy for years. He meditates, a time when he says he can “switch off his brain” and he even talks about philosophy: “I started this to discover the nature of human beings because when you are in a war or a huge crisis, with a lot of people dying, we can say that we see the structure of people fall. I’m a bit tired of what I see. I don’t trust human beings anymore.”

Daniel is also a lecturer and tries to keep his young students apprised of the realities of the job. “I tell them to be conscious of what they are choosing,” he says.

The takeaway from these conversations is that every individual has a different threshold, but they all want to feel supported. There is also a need for early interventions and proactively addressing the mental health crisis in journalism. Ricardo Guttiérez, general secretary at the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) says “Society as a whole needs to see the threats journalists are under. The judicial system and the police have to realise and take the issue seriously.”

Guttiérez also says that journalists can turn to their organisations or their unions, which have support systems in place.

All three interviewees also agree on the need to incorporate mental health in journalism schools. “Integrating courses on physical safety and psychological safety and mental health that need to be part of the next generation of journalism education,” says Brice.

She adds that journalists always feel the need to be connected and keep up with the flow of information. “The reality is that you’re always going to miss something. It’s impossible not to miss something. Let’s just breathe with that thought,” she adds.

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