Mental Health Safety Among
Journalists in the Middle East

Dr Khaled Nasser, Communication Consultant, reflects on his experience at this year’s ARIJ Forum, with an introduction by RPT’s MENA Officer, Amel Alriqi.

The increased demand for psychological safety consultations among journalists in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region illustrates the growing awareness of mental health issues associated with being a journalist in such a hostile environment. The demand was obvious from the more than 100 freelance journalists who applied to attend the Freelance Safety Clinics, held as part of the 13th annual Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) Forum, held from 4th-6th December.

The one-to-one online sessions, which were funded by the Rory Peck Trust in collaboration with the ACOS Alliance and Freelance Frontline Register, were delivered through experts specialising in issues such as physical and psychological safety, enhancing digital security, how to assess risk, how to plan journalistic tasks and how to deal with the effects of psychological trauma.

The advisory sessions aimed to give Arab independent investigative journalists the opportunity to speak safely with experts and gain knowledge, advice and experience to help better protect themselves and improve their working practices. More than half of the applicants listed psychological safety as a priority. Dr Khaled Nasser, Family Communication Consultant, one of the experts who provided consultations at ARIJ on psychological safety, explains the importance of these issues.

Journalism usually attracts a specific kind of character – people who are dissatisfied with the order of things and who seek a role in changing it. Unfortunately, once on the ground – especially in our part of the world – journalists find themselves hit with a difficult reality: regardless of the effort they make, wrongdoings that they uncover often remain unpunished. More importantly, journalists witness war and trauma and find themselves stuck with memories of blood and pain. This combination of personality type, lack of control and visual encounters creates a fertile ground for the development of mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression and trauma.

It is therefore essential to provide journalists in the MENA region with preventive mental health awareness workshops, as well as corrective interventions, both one-on-one and through workshops. Without such essential measures, we will end up with one of two scenarios:

1) Journalists leaving their field and retreating from the world around them, which creates a brain drain of people who may hold powers in the region accountable;
2) Traumatised journalists who will suffer and make their families and the people around them suffer in the process.

One cannot overstate the importance of mental health interventions for the future of journalism in the MENA region. The Rory Peck Trust’s contribution in this respect is an important and impactful step towards correcting the situation. The sessions held during the ARIJ 2020 conference demonstrated that, across the Arab World, journalists share comparable symptoms of job burnout and hypervigilance – two disorders that have severe consequences on one’s body and lead to all kinds of complications. Both reflect a sense of self-sacrifice and come as a result of the multiple responsibilities and numerous uncertainties journalists have to face at home and at work.

-Dr Khaled Nasser