Mental Health in Journalism

I am currently a Journalism post-grad student at Sheridan College, Oakville. After studying it for a few months, I felt that journalists’ mental health is underscored because it is our job to put our feelings aside and report. PTSD within Journalism is underreported, and it is important for people to be aware of its existence.

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is often talked about in the perspective of veterans. People do not often think that journalists and other types of career fields experience it. It is understandable and unimaginable what veterans experience. But, without underscoring other careers, it is human nature to feel if we experience trauma. And, yes, journalists do need to develop a thick skin, but to what extent?

PTSD in journalism is no different from PTSD within other careers, according to Dr. Anthony Feinstein – a doctor at Sunnybrook, Toronto. The symptoms are in fact the same as for soldiers, veterans, paramedics, and doctors, and even those who do not necessarily have PTSD because of their careers. Dr. Feinstein researched about journalists who have reported from all over the world, from the 9/11 attack to the ongoing Syrian Civil war and the Al Shabab in Kenya.

“Journalists are more resilient,” Dr. Feinstein says, “they are reporting the dangers; it is their everyday duty to report to and inform the citizens.”

Undeniably, every journalist is different from the other. Some may be more tolerant than others, some may not be as significantly bad in comparison to others. Speaking with two journalists, David Common and Sherine Mansour, both have different lived experiences when they are/were journalists.

Sherine Mansour, Journalism professor at Sheridan College (Supplied by Sherine)

Sherine Mansour is a Program Coordinator for the Journalism program at Sheridan College. She worked in the news industry for 20 years and has retired. Obviously the first question to be asked was why she left journalism and pursued a teaching job. Her answer was “because of the abusive environment working [she] was working in at the time.”

Her Sheridan teaching job was only a short-term plan and she would return to the news business again.

Interestingly, Mansour mentioned that when she was so immersed in her job, she did not seem to “psychologically register that [she] had the symptoms and could cope with them.” Whereas when she is no longer in the field or working as a reporter, while teaching, a location or a flashback could trigger her anxiety which would lead to her experiencing the symptoms of PTSD.

Mansour was not a correspondent who reported wars and disasters, but she did report in her local areas. Journalists do not necessarily have to be in a war or a disastrous zone, but because she reported various news stories, from murders to submersions, encountering the witnesses’ and victims’ families’ reactions and expressions, could make the person distraught. As in the book Journalists Under Fire, written by Dr. Feinstein, the perfect way to describe this emotion is “when sympathy for the survivors merges into personal identification with them…the worst things are people you can relate to, people who look like your mother or sister” (pg. 22).

David Common, host of MARKETPLACE and a correspondent with THE NATIONAL (CBC Media Center)

David Common is currently a Network Correspondent for CBC, but he reports from across the world, from natural disasters in the Bahamas to war zones in Iraq.

“You see people die, you see people get hurt, you see kids in really bad condition, and end up in disaster zones” Common says.

An interesting point he makes is that it is not just about the dead people but also the survivors: how did they manage to survive in such bad conditions.

Common has been working in the industry for so long now, PTSD does not affect him and his work as badly as others who do suffer from PTSD; in comparison to others, Common believes that his are “quite minor.”

After interviewing both journalists, Mansour did not seek therapy as it was “inconvenient” for her. Dr. Feinstein is probably the foremost person that has researched PTSD within Journalism, and because of how underreported it is, it is possible to say that it is stopping many journalists to seek professional help. Common, however, has sought therapy with Dr. Feinstein, but only when it is significantly affecting him. Could this be why Common is still a journalist?

Mansour and Common have expressed their preference in speaking with other journalists who have encountered similar traumas and experiences, whether in the moment of the trauma experience or post-trauma. Both have stated that they prefer to talk with someone who can relate to them. Talking to a doctor is ideal but because doctors do not really know the true experiences that journalists undergo, they cannot relate to the journalists.

Despite the antiquated idea where journalists are supposed to put up with the incidents and accidents they encounter, it is easier said than done when someone advises journalists to put their feelings aside when reporting.

Mental Health and Journalism Infographic by Menna Shawky
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Written by
Mennatullah Shawky

A journalist in training.
Aspiring blog writer.
A coffee addict that loves to talk and try new things.

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