Newsbreak: A journalists’ safe space to fight mental health stigmas
During the coronavirus pandemic, where journalists are put under unprecedented strain, BBC journalist Tom Hourigan founded the site “Newsbreak“, where journalists can discuss their mental health, exchange ways to handle difficult news or share advice on how to improve one’s mental well-being. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) believes this to be a great initiative to destigmatise mental health issues and urges employer organisations to adapt to journalists’ needs.
The practice of journalism can take an enormous toll on journalists’ mental health and the coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated this: anxiety, uncertainty, stress, sleeping problems, burnout or endless scrolling on social media are some of the problems journalists have been experiencing. A major issue is the inability to take a break from the 24-hour news cycle, particularly when working from home, where the private and the professional realms are almost inseparable.
By creating this safe space for journalists, Hourigan encourages his peers to open up about their experiences. The underlying idea is to improve the conversation around mental health within media organisations and to generate an attitude shift where mental health is seen as equal to physical health.
In a podcast with Journalism.co.uk, Hourigan said that he was “alarmed” about how frustrated many of his colleagues are in a seemingly endless cycle of grim news while also missing out on a sense of community in the newsroom. Newsbreak aims to make journalists feel like they are not alone. Though there is no one-size-fits-all solution to mental health issues,” journalists understand very well what other journalists are going through”.
Hourigan also emphasised that mental health needs to become more visible and acceptable. “We still have this great double standard between how mental health and physical health are treated. That is an attitude which needs to change right from the top,” he said, referring to media organisations who must be the first ones to make this change happen. Management teams should hear the stories journalists are sharing on Newsbreak and enhance their support.
Newsbreak is encouraging all kinds of journalists to share their experience and to help raise awareness. In February and March, Newsbreak held informal online chats via zoom for journalists. The next dates will be announced here soon. The website also provides several useful links for journalists for further support and toolkits and is currently collecting responses for a survey on which to base demands on media organisations.
The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), as part of the project Health and Safety for Journalists, is also preparing a survey on journalists’ perceptions regarding health and safety issues in their profession. You can find out more information on the project page.