A “significant” number of journalists reporting on the Covid-19 pandemic appear to be suffering signs of mental health issues including anxiety and depression, according to new research.
The June survey of 73 journalists from international news organisations found that around 70% of respondents were suffering from some level of psychological distress.
The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and the University of Toronto published the preliminary results of the survey so that news outlets can act now and offer better support for those struggling.
In April four in ten Press Gazette readers said their mental health was suffering for work-related reasons during the coronavirus lockdown, suggesting the situation has worsened as the pandemic has gone on.
Some 26% of respondents to the new survey reported clinically significant anxiety compatible with the diagnosis of generalised anxiety disorder, which includes symptoms of worry, feeling on edge, insomnia, poor concentration and fatigue.
And around 11% reported prominent symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including recurrent intrusive thoughts and memories of a traumatic Covid-19-related event, a desire to avoid recollections of the event, and feelings of guilt, fear, anger, horror and shame.
The University of Toronto’s Dr Anthony Feinstein and Reuters Institute’s Meera Selva, who led the study, said they would look further into reasons for these symptoms and possible solutions in future analysis.
“But the top-line findings are so striking that we feel it is important to flag up the pressure many journalists are working under so that news media and others can consider how to respond to the problems we identify,” they said.
The journalists surveyed had an average age of 41, with 18 years of experience, working at large, established news organisations, and were almost entirely otherwise in good health. Only one had tested positive for Covid-19.
The researchers said the situation “could well be even worse” in less privileged parts of the profession including freelances and journalists at smaller organisations with less resources.
Half of the survey respondents had been offered access to some kind of counseling since the pandemic began and the findings showed that those who received therapy were less likely to be anxious, distressed or display PTSD symptoms.
One journalist told the researchers they found it hard “navigating the challenge of covering a global story that is both personal but professional, leading a team to do so, having to explain a new subject in an accurate, responsible and fast way.”
Another told them they felt stressed “covering for colleagues who could not make it to the office because of coronavirus fears”.
Other challenges included the “impossible” combination of working from home, home schooling and running a home, and reporting on such a huge story while mistrust of the media is at an “all-time high”.
Many of the journalists had been forced to quickly adapt to covering a new specialism: just 4% were specialist health reporters before the pandemic, but now 74% are now reporting on health-related matters linked to the pandemic.
Six in ten were working longer hours than they did before the pandemic began and the same number reported more demand for stories from them.
Healthcare charity Nuffield Health said 80% of people feel working from home during lockdown has impacted their mental health, but Selva and Feinstein said journalists “appear to be under higher than average strain”.
The researchers said: “We are reporting these top-line findings here to draw attention to the issue, illustrate the pressures that many individual journalists clearly feel they are under (but may not feel like discussing if they are unsure about how widespread these problems are in the profession), and in the hope that journalists and news media will take these problems seriously, something we hope our past, and ongoing, research will help with.
“As journalists continue to report on a fast moving story to a bewildered and mistrustful public, this support is vital. Reporters can only continue to provide accurate information about the crisis if they are able to and supported to cope with the demands the pandemic impose on them.”
Gavin Rees, executive director of the Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma in Europe, and Spectator assistant editor Isabel Hardman previously shared their tips for journalists coping with the unprecedented impact of Covid-19.
Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire