Consider your mental health.
Journalists are often front-line witnesses to many types of events, trauma, natural disasters, conflict or hostilities. You are never sure of what you may see or hear, who you may meet with powerful testimonies and how that may impact you, your team or your contributors.
Covering such stories can cause stress, anxiety, burnout or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Combined with the challenging and demanding nature of the profession, being affected or traumatised by what you experience and needing support is not a sign of weakness.
It’s important to think through the potential psychological risks of a project before starting reporting, as part of your risk assessment. If it is possible that any element of the project may cause adverse psychological effects or trauma, be sure to outline details of the risk, the potential severity and likelihood of it and how it can be minimised. Make sure you debrief after each assignment to recognise the signs of anxiety, depression or PTSD and recognise when you need to ask for help for yourself, your team or contributors.
Remember to specifically think about how digital risks can impact psychological security, as online abuse and harassment can come in many forms and cause real harm to your mental health.
Be sure to research and detail any psychological help available during and after reporting and broadcast/publication. This way you can ask for help before it becomes a problem.
There are various forms of therapy that can help you deal with mental health challenges. The most common are Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Psychotherapy. Access to these may be available on your national health service or you can pay for a private service.
If you are not sure which is the right one for you, do some research into the different therapies on offer and choose one to start – you can always change your mind after a few sessions. Don’t be deterred – there is no quick fix, but therapy will definitely help in the long term.
In response to the psychological pressures that journalists are exposed to, the Rory Peck Trust has created a Therapy Fund to help freelance journalists cover the cost of treatment for those who would benefit from professional psychological support.
Mental Health Resources
- Top tips for looking after your mental health, tip sheet by Prof. Anthony Feinstein
- Journalism & Trauma: Stuart Hughes & Anthony Feinstein in Conversation, an RPT webinar
- Making the World Hurt Less: Enhancing Wellbeing During a Time of Stress, IWMF
- Newsroom Mental Health Resource Guide, RTDNA
- Mental health tips and resources for journalists, IJ Net
- Mental Health and Journalist Toolkit, IJ Net
- Tips for Coping After Reporting Distressing and Traumatic Stories, IJ Net
- The Self-Investigation, a free online programme designed to support journalists’ wellbeing
- The Anxiety Coaches Podcast, learn techniques for managing anxiety and/or panic
- Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma