The news industry is built like a giant sleepless factory with stories of all forms cruising along conveyor belts awaiting their release. For media folks, this structure means tight deadlines accompanied with stress, anxiety, and, in some cases, trauma.
Mental Health Awareness month has come to an end, but a recent report sparked concerns among those working in the media industry.
Brought forth by the Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma, the report found media workers developed higher risks for anxiety and depression than average Canadians, higher risk of alcohol consumption at rates double those of average Canadians, and one in 10 media workers surveyed having had suicidal thoughts after covering difficult stories.
Working in the media industry doesn’t always guarantee a stable nine-to-five schedule. Reporters, editors, presenters, and camera operators need to be alerted on breaking news, and at times this also means working on weekends. With such an unpredictable schedule, it is difficult for media folks to take time off and focus on their well-being.
When media individuals try to take time off, they find it challenging. More than half of surveyed women expressed taking time off work as difficult. Two-thirds of people aged 21 to 29 also found it challenging, the report found.
A Toronto Star reporter described in the report how “asking for time off feels weak” as media fellows can feel like they are letting the organization down. The reporter also noted how individuals working in the media get praised for doing more work than others, even if it comes at the cost of their mental health.
Being unable to take or accept time off affects the mental state of media workers and could also affect their relationships with friends, family, or partners. By not setting a time to create social connections, individuals might feel isolated and lonely.
Being lonely raises anxiety and depression, especially when the individual witnesses or is exposed to traumatic events. Media workers may run into stories with “graphics imagery of war, murder, sexual violence, humanitarian crises, natural disasters and other crimes and calamities,” states the report.
Regular exposure to those kinds of stories can affect the mental state of media workers and the entire newsroom. Trauma exposure could also lead to feeling numb, uncontrollable crying while working on other stories, burnout, and traumatic stress according to the report.
This is one of the reasons why it is essential for media workers to get mental health support if encountering traumatic stories or events.
The report states that 53 per cent of respondents had visited health professionals in order to cope with work-related stress and mental well-being.
COVID-19 has also heightened the feeling of loneliness, as folks worldwide have had to self-isolate. For people working in the media, this meant plummeting stress levels while in social isolation.
Isolation isn’t the only challenge media individuals face during pandemic times. COVID-19 has created fears regarding financial stability and job security in a workforce like the media, which is slowly cutting loose reporters and creating smaller newsrooms.
Financial uncertainty is especially prominent among freelancers. A freelance photographer in Winnipeg told report researchers how “being underpaid and exploited by employers is a unique trauma in and of itself.”
Regarding plans of action to improve the well-being and mental health in the Canadian news industry, the report suggests developing post-pandemic strategies that address the disruption of covering the suffering and death the pandemic has brought to individuals.
Improving education and training on well-being, mental health, and the impact of trauma is also recommended. The report asked journalism programs across the country to showcase their programs on trauma and well-being, but not all journalism schools responded. Of those who responded, only Carleton University stated to have a complete course on trauma-informed reporting.
Other plans of action include improving culture and work-life balance, establishing protocols to protect health, seeking employee input, and improving and expanding benefits.
Implementing a health-first-based work environment in the Canadian news industry can foster journalists who are passionate about the stories they produce instead of converting storytellers into living automatic content machines.
The news industry is not meant to be a sleepless factory, but rather a pillar of information to inform the public.