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Fear, trauma and freelancing in Mexico

Fear, trauma and freelancing in Mexico

Every 22 hours a journalist in Mexico is attacked. So reported the Yucatan Times this week. It's a shocking statistic that reveals just how bad things are for Mexican journalists. 

More than 100 (confirmed) killings have taken place during the last 15 years and Mexico now has more missing journalists than any other country in the world. 

Mexican journalists have always known that stories about local corruption, crime or violence can trigger repercussions, but violence against them is now happening on an unprecedented scale. And it’s not just from organised crime.

In southern states, such as Veracruz and Oaxaca where violence against journalists has increased, attacks and arbitrary detentions are being carried out by criminal gangs, government officials and security forces who don’t like what’s being printed. Government legislation set up to protect journalists has done nothing to combat impunity.

 41% of Mexican journalists are suffering PTSD-like symptoms of trauma

The Trust has been working to support Mexico’s freelance journalists for almost a decade now. Our 2008 safety project was the first initiative to tackle the issues of protection and security among freelancers and we have provided training and assistance grants to 67 freelancers since then. But we have also recognised that more needs to be done to help Mexican freelancers deal with the psychological effects of living and working in such violent and threatening conditions. 

A recent study by a Mexican university revealed that 41% of Mexico’s journalists are suffering from the PTSD-like symptoms of trauma – more than those covering conflict. Another found that that those reporting on local drug trafficking suffered from high anxiety, depression and fear for their safety.

Unlike international journalists covering foreign wars, locals can’t escape the violence around them, yet very few Mexican journalists know how to identify or manage what’s happening to them. 


So, in 2015, we partnered with Tech Palewi, a Mexican organisation who specialise in working with people in situations of trauma and crisis, to run a workshop for Mexican freelance journalists working in some of the country’s most dangerous areas. 

Helping Mexican freelancers manage trauma 

Over two days 12 freelancers learned how to incorporate trauma awareness and management into their everyday working practices. They were taught how to identify the symptoms of trauma and were given techniques on how to manage its effects on themselves and others.  

They learned how fear could impact on their work and how preventative measures could prevent emotional burnout. Most participants had suffered attacks because of their work, but rarely talked about the psychological effect this was having with colleagues or family.

Few received any sort of support from editors or commissioners; many were concerned for the safety of their families. The workshop gave them the space and opportunity to talk openly about their own experiences and discuss their fears and concerns with others. 

I hope this will be just the first of many other trauma initiatives in Mexico - we are already planning a second to run for later in the year. It would be wrong to think that projects like these provide a quick fix for Mexican freelancers. Of course they don’t. But they do provide freelancers with the knowledge and skills they need to recognise, understand and manage the effects of trauma and, probably most importantly of all, a place for them to share and discuss their experiences, fears and concerns. It’s the least they deserve. 

We asked some of the freelancers who attended the workshop to share their thoughts and experiences: 


Catalina Cortes Castillo is RPT's Programme Officer for Latin America and the Caribbean 

Top image: participants are RPT's Trauma workshop in Pueblo, Mexico, November 2015, copyright: Catalina Cortes Castillo

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