Every other journalist in Karachi is suffering from anxiety, while one in four is clinically depressed, according to ‘Stress and Coping in Journalists: Findings of a three-year counselling service’.
The study was authored by Dr Asha Bedar, a clinical psychologist with a PhD from Australia’s University of Melbourne and over 18 years of experience. The findings were launched in a Facebook Live session conducted by Centre for Excellence in Journalism Director Kamal Siddiqi with Dr Asha.
Ninety journalists from Karachi came for counselling for an array of presenting issues. According to the study, anxiety and depression were the most common complaints. Thirteen of the 90 journalists had relationship issues, six had anger issues, four had concentration issues, while three each had family conflict and grief issues.
Twenty-two journalists were placed in the others category, which includes bipolar disorder, frustration, obsessive compulsive disorder, memory loss, mental fatigue, obsessive thoughts, suicidal thoughts, mood swings and emotional control, insomnia, trauma, difficulty in decision-making, panic, lack of motivation, hopelessness and other issues.
The free, confidential counselling service for media workers was launched in 2018 in collaboration with DW Akademie. Its four clinical psychologists — Dr Asha, Mahnoor Shaikh, Tabinda Afzal and Zainab Barry — have provided over 600 hourly counselling sessions to 107 journalists across Pakistan. This study brings together insights from the journalist clients, data from surveys after well-being workshops and multiple interviews with newsroom managers.
Defining journalism in the summary of the research, Siddiqi wrote that a profession whose practitioners kill stories, make deadlines and run towards burning buildings can only be the one that operates on a steady diet of stress. “But gone are the days of valorising newsroom suffering, as journalists the world over have begun to understand the toll their work takes.”
Majority of the journalists tended to come for two to seven sessions. The biggest group was in the 21- to 30-year age bracket. More men than women sought counselling. An overwhelming majority of the journalist clients were working full-time. Thirty-seven of the 90 Karachi journalists who came for varying degrees of counselling at the Wellbeing Centre had been on the job between one and five years.
During the launch, Siddiqi and Dr Asha pointed out two factors that came into play in the study: it is the job’s requirements that give anxiety, and there is content that is usually sad and depressing; and the passion for journalism, which becomes an addiction, which is a helping factor but adds on stress.
One of the few things that stood out for Dr Asha in the study was that a lot of journalism is about exposing yourself to stress, trauma and people’s misery. How much of the work journalists do, she said, is to do with sad, difficult and stressful things in others’ lives such as disasters and calamities.
One key sentiment that echoed through all the focus group discussions and interviews with journalists was that journalism is an Ishq (passion). “This emotion even shone through accounts of their struggles. Many of them spoke of how they joined the profession for the love of the news and passion for the ‘truth’,” read the report. Here Dr Asha adds that somewhere sad content does impact one’s mind.
She said social media is an additional stress, and there is no switching off from the news. “Content in the last few years has become more stressful because of social media. One doesn’t want to miss out on anything. There’s no break. You have to be on top of the news.”
She said that apart from what is happening in the industry and the issues related with the content, what matters is how it is all impacting individual journalists, their work and their collective performance. “There’s a limit of stress for every human being. Stress starts to become complex where it starts showing depressive symptoms.”
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