Magazine article The Quill

Good Mental Health Key to Success in Traumatic Job

Magazine article The Quill

Good Mental Health Key to Success in Traumatic Job

Article excerpt

Sometimes what we do is no fun.

We cover devastation, the horrors of war and tragedy simply because we must. We record history. We tell the stories of life and of death. As journalists, that's what we are called to do.

In this rough and tumble world, we are charged with being ready for anything. The wise among us carry a change of clothes in our trunks, a passport in our top drawer and a can-do spirit in our souls. We are journalists.

Sooner or later, though, we may begin to suffer psychologically or emotionally. Recent studies have shown that journalists - just like firefighters, police officers, medics and soldiers - can suffer trauma from covering intense situations.

Twenty percent of people who are exposed to traumatic events "develop clinically significant psychological problems," according to the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies Web site. A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry showed that journalists covering war are more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders than journalists not covering war. That may seem obvious. What may not be so clear is our own level of acceptance that journalists, just like other mere humans, can and do suffer stress from traumatic events. Consequently, we must take special care to watch out for the journalists who cover devastating circumstances, both at home and abroad.

How do you know if a colleague is in trouble psychologically?

Feelings of grief, helplessness, irritability, depression and fear are not unusual for someone who has witnessed a traumatic event. Witnesses also might experience nightmares or upsetting thoughts some time after the event.

The psychiatry journal article noted that journalists covering the war drank alcohol at about two to three times the amount of nonwar journalists. If journalists are using alcohol or drugs to self-medicate, then that could signal a problem in the making. …

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