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April 7, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 11:12am

Mental health toolkits launched to help stressed and burnt out journalists

By Hannah Storm and John Crowley

The past two years have thrown issues of mental health into sharp focus in the media. The relentless stressors of the global pandemic have left many colleagues burnt out and exhausted. With little time to pause and relieve the pressure, some of our colleagues are now covering the conflict in Ukraine, either on the ground or remotely.

We are worried that we are approaching a watershed moment for our colleagues and we must focus on their welfare rather than risking them leaving journalism. It’s an impact that can only be damaging to press freedom and to democracy at a time when both are under threat around the world.

At Headlines Network, we’ve spent the past few months listening to our colleagues, working with individuals and organisations from across journalism, and we’ve heard how they are hurting.

[Read more: Trauma risk for newsroom-based journalists dealing with Ukraine material]

This week, we are proud to announce that Headlines Network has been working with the mental health charity Mind to launch two guides for journalists. Managing Our Mental Health and Supporting Our Colleagues are the first two of our resource pillars this year which will help on specific issues around journalist well-being.

‘We can stand together to help’

The toolkits will be launched at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy, which began on 6 April. They include illustrative written guides supported with animated videos in which journalism colleagues share perspectives, tips and insights. Because we are working journalists, we know what stress is – and what it looks like for our friends and colleagues.

Over the past 75 years, Mind has transformed public attitudes and the quality of mental health support. By combining our experience in the media, we can stand together to help journalists with their mental health.

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For Mind, this is the first industry-wide initiative to deliver well-being resources and training specifically to journalists which the charity has collaborated on. Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at Mind, with whom we have been working, said: “There are many factors that can contribute to poor mental health among journalists, including long and anti-social working hours, tight deadlines, excessive workload and exposure to traumatic events.

“The tough culture that often pervades this sector means poor mental health has often been viewed as a weakness. As a result, despite the high prevalence of mental health problems among journalists, many are worried about asking for the support they need. We’re determined to help change that.

“Together with Headlines Network we have developed new resources to encourage open conversations and create a more supportive culture around mental health in journalism.”

‘Managers are also struggling’

The project has been made possible by the Google News Initiative. Matt Cooke, head of Google News Lab, part of the Google News Initiative, said: “While navigating the uncertainty of the last two years, journalists have encountered unprecedented challenges as they seek to provide audiences with accurate information about the world around them.

“The unique challenges faced by journalists require a specific approach –  a safe space for journalists to discuss mental health, their well-being and to share best practices. We’re supporting the Headlines Network to create new efforts which we hope will enable cross-industry discussions, boost expert support and provide real impact.”

We know it’s important to create spaces for everyone across the industry to feel safe to speak about their experiences. But we also know there is still a way to go to overcome some of the taboos around mental health in the media.

[Read more: Trauma risk for newsroom-based journalists dealing with Ukraine material + tips to help]

‘Worrying’ anecdotes of journalist mental health

Even in recent weeks, we’ve heard worrying anecdotes that some of our colleagues have had to deal with being told to have “a thicker skin”, when they are tired and trying their best. But we also know this is the time to really take action, before our industry loses its most precious resources – its people.

It’s great to see that some newsrooms are prioritising mental health conversations, but we wanted to go a step further and respond to what we have heard by offering the kind of resources that we know are sorely needed to address what needs to be a collective effort.

In addition to our work with Mind, we are developing training for managers to help them begin conversations with colleagues about their mental health. Over the past two years, it’s become increasingly clear to us that managers are also struggling. Many lack the training to know how to support colleagues, how to come across as mental health allies and how to manage their own wellbeing at times when resources are stretched.

In February we launched Behind the Headlines, a podcast series in which colleagues share experiences of the stories and journalism which have impacted them and how they have managed their mental health.

We have published three podcasts: the first with Lindsey Hilsum and Lyse Doucet on their late colleague Marie Colvin. That was followed in March with the broadcaster and counselling psychologist Sian Williams who spoke candidly about her personal and journalism experiences.

Headlines Networks’ latest podcast was published this week. In it Clive Myrie, the BBC journalist, newsreader and presenter, offers a candid insight into how he copes and reflects on some of the challenges of his career – which has seen him reporting recently from Ukraine and covering the impact of Covid on communities around the world and the National Health Service.

Headlines Network comprises founder Hannah Storm and John Crowley (pictured). Over the past two decades they have led newsrooms, journalism safety charities and run news sites. Both are qualified mental health first aiders and bring knowledge and lived experience around mental well-being.

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