The inevitable mental health revolution

Survey after survey, country after country, the data points to the same reality: Mental health has become one of the biggest challenges for journalists. More than 60% of the media workers in countries as diverse as Canada, Spain and Ecuador reported high levels of anxiety in 2022. At least one in five reported depression. Levels of post-traumatic stress disorder and burnout are also on the rise.

The picture is likely to get worse unless we do something about it from within our organizations.

In 2021, some journalists started to speak up more publicly about their predicament, and 2022 was the year when the topic finally got out of the journalism closet. We heard about this through Twitter, articles, books), and the very public cases of reporters breaking down on air.

Even more unprecedented was the vast number of journalists demanding training to learn how to take care of themselves — and to generate a healthier industry. Nearly 10,000, from every corner of the planet, signed up for mental health courses at the Knight Center, ITS Rio. or The Self-Investigation Academy. The issue was included in all major conferences — including one entirely focused on care.

The demand and the need are clear. In 2023, it’s the media organizations’ turn to pick up the baton and lead the way towards a more sustainable culture of care in journalism. Managers, editors and publishers worldwide: Why make such an investment?

To achieve more with less, because research shows that healthier and happier employees perform better — and are more likely to stay.

For your audiences, so they receive more inspiring and hopeful coverage, instead of having to avoid the news due to the negative effect it has on their mood.

Out of shared humanity, to eradicate stigma around mental health.

Or for the business. The World Health Organization estimates that anxiety and depression alone cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion, mostly in lost productivity.

Incorporating wellbeing as a key value will mean rethinking the way we work, so that we’re not just sticking Band-aids to an already unsustainable workload. In the United States, 84% of employees reported that their workplace had a negative impact on their mental health.

The approach needs to be systemic and have support from top management. The WHO recommends three evidence-based interventions: “manager training for mental health, training for workers in mental health literacy and awareness, and individual interventions delivered directly to workers.”

It will also mean creating new narratives of what it means to be a “good journalist” and developing different role models, so that we stop commending unhealthy practices such as being always on, structural overtime, lack of mutual recognition and care, or not having a fulfilling personal life. If not, the industry is at risk of losing more good talent, especially among Millennials and Gen Z.

Joining the mental health revolution doesn’t have to be costly. It requires low investment and results in high returns. We know this because many organizations have already started in other industries – and also within journalism. Some newsrooms, for example, began by harnessing the interest among their staff, and encouraging mental health committees that provide resources and guidelines, or establishing community-based safe spaces to share among peers – led or not by an external facilitator. Others provide free access to a number of therapy sessions as part of their benefits package.

Journalists are ready and the situation is urgent. It’s time for a substantial shift in journalism’s culture and 2023 is the year to start planting seeds for long-lasting change. The media industry can no longer afford to bypass the mental health revolution.

Mar Cabra is cofounder of The Self-Investigation and a journalist and digital wellness expert. Kim Brice contributed to this prediction.

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