Journalists left on own to cope with trauma, says study

JOURNALISTS who report traumatic events largely have to cope on their own with any after-effects it might have on them, according to new research.

Jackie Cameron – a former deputy production editor at The Scotsman, but now an occupational psychologist at the Institute of Work Psychology at Sheffield University – interviewed 20 active and former journalists.

Her study revealed that journalists largely take responsibility for their own psychological well being, with experience on the job being the basis of their self help.

She presented her finding at the annual conference of the Division of Occupational Psychology of the British Psychological Society.

Said Cameron: “Journalists come face to face things with many of us can only imagine, yet theirs is an industry which provides little in the way of formal training or support for dealing with the trauma they can experience.

“A curious paradox we found was that personal attitudes were largely in stark contrast to the macho image of the profession, with most individuals expressing sympathy and support towards colleagues requiring help for emotional difficulties and journalists often turned to family, friends and colleagues for support.”

She added: “When I first began this research, I had no idea of the extent of the problem, and I was completely stunned by what I heard. Some individuals had carried their emotional burden for decades, and many continued to have vivid, often intrusive memories and negative enduring reactions to events.

“One major barrier to change I found was the perceived existence of an unsympathetic, or ‘macho’ culture. This implies there is no room for weakness, and can deter individuals from seeking help. The consequences may be that individuals suffer in silence, or leave the industry altogether. Raising awareness of help-seeking and removing this stigma of shame is therefore a significant priority for organisations.

“During the course of my research, I was encouraged by the finding that some organisations are taking positive steps towards staff care. However, sadly, in the experience of those who participated in my study, these appear to be in the minority. Forward-thinking organisations should therefore lead the way in raising awareness of the benefits of trauma management, as well as ensure they have proper evaluation strategies in place.”