Mental health is a growing concern among TV news journalists. Old time journalists often were told to grit it out, suck it up, understand the stress and anxiety of the daily deadline pressures and, frankly, awful crime stories are part of the job.
Surviving as a journalist should not mean constant suffering though. Yes, part of the job is seeing horrible crime scenes, covering stories that showcase the dark parts of humanity in stark terms, and uncovering corruption. Yes, journalists know that goes with the territory. But that simply doesn’t mean stations and broadcast groups should just tell staff to handle it all on their own.
I keep saying that journalists are the commodity broadcasters sell. You must realize the people covering the news are the company’s most precious assets. No journalists, no newscasts = no revenue.
Top News Talent recently hosted a discussion on Clubhouse on mental health. Specifically the recurring dream many producers have that they cannot get their newscast done on time. This is the start of many discussions we hope have to help raise awareness that journalists in TV news do take their job home with them. It impacts their personal lives as well. From this discussion, with therapist Matthew Nordin, we learned some very valuable lessons.
These dreams can be a sign that the journalist needs a mental health break. Maybe it’s a mental health day. Maybe more.
Recurring dreams can signal that you’re struggling to cope with something you covered, wrote about or the circumstances in your newsroom.
For those of you having these recurring dreams, some crucial takeaways:
There are coping mechanisms to help you distance yourself a bit from the daily stress. A big one Matthew mentioned is “soft belly breathing.” It sounds too simple, right? But it’s based on science. Your mind is powerful enough to use this simple technique to reset your stress levels in a powerful way. Here is a video showing you how to belly breathe. And an audio version and interview.
If you ignore the dreams, the stress usually increases. There is a risk of developing actual PTSD.
Journalists and managers also need to be aware of secondary trauma. Let’s define it in simple but crucial terms: by covering traumatic events regularly, the journalist also becomes impacted by the events. Over time this can lead to PTSD if not addressed early and often. Partner this with newsrooms that are understaffed, work hours that make it hard to sleep at night (overnights), keep a regular sleep schedule (covering for sick calls on different shifts), and 10 hour shifts on average with little to no breaks, and the journalist is already more prone to anxiety overload.
Companies offer EAP programs. This allows anywhere from 4 to 6 visits with a therapist, for free, depending on your company’s plan. A crucial thing here, when you call to set up the visits, know your station, your boss and your parent company do not know you are seeking therapy. Some employees really worry about this. It is truly anonymous. When you call to use this valuable benefit, have your health insurance card handy so you can ask them to look for a therapist who also takes your insurance in case you end up needing more than the standard sessions alloted. If that is not possible, ask for some names, then you can look them up. Matthew tells us Psychology Today is a great resource to check out potential therapists. From here you can find out if they take your medical insurance for after the EAP alloted sessions.
Matthew also told us there are ways to get therapy and not have it cost a fortune if you do not want to use your medical insurance or you cannot find a therapist who takes your insurance. This is key, the services we are listing here, link you with therapists that essentially donate their time to give back, in a sense. They passionately want to help more people afford therapy, Here are the two links to these services: https://www.opencounseling.
A last note to individual journalists: PTSD can set in within a month of suffering trauma. So if you cover a story that really seems to impact you more than most, it’s preferable to not wait and see what happens. Get counseling quickly to try and prevent PTSD from setting in. That said, Matthew points out that if you’re already a mindful person who’s really in touch with your body and emotions through yoga, meditation, etc. you may not need a therapist. This is where knowing yourself and your limits are really important.
For managers and broadcast group leaders, try and create an environment where staff can tell you the stress of the job is getting to be too intense, before it gets to the point the person must quit their job. Ask regularly, how staffers are doing. If you can bring in counselors not just when something tragic, like a school shooting, standoff or death of a staff member happens. Offering a chance to talk with a counselor more regularly, can help immensely. It also could show that you value mental health and might lead to more staff telling you if they need help. If you can advocate for more mental health coverage, including HSA $ for mental health treatment or mindfulness coaching, you not only prove you care for your staff, you have a powerful recruiting tool.
As for those anxiety dreams we all seem to have? The first step is making your bedroom a sanctuary for sleep. UC San Diego created this great infographic on how to achieve this.