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‘Clinically significant’ anxiety reported by a quarter of journalists writing on Covid-19, Reuters survey shows

Posted on: July 22, 2020 by Mariella Brown

A quarter of journalists appear to suffer ‘clinically significant’ anxiety after reporting on the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a June survey by Reuters Institute.

Around 70 per cent of the 73 journalists surveyed from international news organisations suffer from some levels of psychological distress – preliminary results show.

These results are part of an ongoing project to highlight how Covid-19 is affecting journalists’ mental health around the world, conducted by Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and the University of Toronto.

The survey sample comprised of reporters working at large, established news media who have on average 18 years of experience in the industry.

The results found only four per cent of respondents were specialist health reporters to begin with, but now 74 per cent say they are reporting on health-related matters linked to the pandemic. 

Around 11 per cent of respondents report prominent symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, which include “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”.

“These are preliminary results from a work in progress, and the reasons for this distress, and possible solutions, will be discussed in subsequent publications,” said the report’s authors Meera Selva and Dr Anthony Feinstein.

“But the top-line findings are so striking that we feel it’s important to flag up the pressure journalists are working under so that news media can consider how to respond.”

The findings show 26 per cent of journalists have clinically significant anxiety compatible with the diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder which includes symptoms of worry, feeling on edge, insomnia, poor concentration and fatigue.

Sixty per cent report working longer hours since the pandemic and 60 per cent noted more demand for stories because of the pandemic.

The report said that in keeping with previous studies, there is more anxiety, PTSD symptoms and depression in female journalists, as opposed to male journalists.

Fifty-two per cent of respondents have been offered access to some form of counselling since the outbreak of the pandemic, findings show.

One journalist surveyed spoke of the difficulty of reporting on a story at a moment when trust in the media is falling: “Finding things to document that inform the public are extremely difficult with mistrust of the media at an all-time high. Gatherings can turn hostile on us in an instant and the idea that the media has any agenda other than simply documenting this time in our collective history is pervasive.”

The study builds on work Dr Feinstein has done on how journalists are affected when they report on extreme events, including the 9/11 terror attacks and the Iraq war.

A mental health awareness pack is available online from the NUJ with resources for journalists in need of support.  The Journalists’ Charity also offers advice and financial assistance for UK journalists.