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This page has been prepared by the Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma, a global network of journalists, mental health professionals and educators dedicated to improving the coverage of violence, conflict and tragedy. For more comprehensive and up-to-date information visit their website at www.dartcentre.org.
Journalists working in high-risk environments will encounter significant amounts of violence and horror. It is part of the job.
Bearing witness to violence and the distress of others is rarely easy. First-hand coverage of carnage and disaster as well as extended interviewing or other investigation into traumatic events can be haunting. Sometimes journalists and their friends and families may themselves become the direct targets of violence or attempts at intimidation, adding another level of concern. Any of these experiences can have a profound impact on journalists, and sometimes the people around them too: their friends, colleagues and loved ones.
Most journalists show extraordinary resilience. However, research from the military and elsewhere suggests that nobody, however tough their colleagues believe them to be, is necessarily immune to finding themselves in difficulty.
This is why a basic knowledge of how to best counter the psychological risks of working around violence, conflict and tragedy should be in every journalistís toolkit, along with an understanding of how to look after their physical security. This is not just a matter of long-term mental health but of preserving sound news judgment. The stress of working in traumatic situations may impair reporters' decision-making ability. Unnecessary risk-taking, insensitivity to others and outbursts of irritability, all common reactions to traumatic stress, can have explosive consequences in hostile situations.
Human beings are programmed to have a range of physiological reactions in the immediate aftermath of trauma and violence. Our emotions become aroused and we may experience elevated heartbeat and different patterns of brain activity. How these changes affect our behaviour is complicated.† People show different responses.
Anger, crying, hyperactivity, temporary freezing, exaggerated calmness, elation, irritability, trembling, numbing, shame, loneliness and guilt are some common reactions. These are normal and help us to come to terms with what we have witnessed. Usually they subside in the hours or days after a traumatic incident.
Sometimes, though, distress can be more persistent.†† Further on - perhaps weeks or months later - people may still experience reactions that disturb them. These may even kick in much later without any prior warning.
Having intrusive flashbacks
Being unable to talk of what happened
Unable to concentrate
Drinking more alcohol
Not wanting to leave home - or work
Difficulties getting to/staying sleep
Having bad dreams/nightmares
Mental health professionals consider such reactions persisting for a month or more after an event to be symptoms of traumatic stress.
Journalists working in high-risk environments can learn much from the latest research into how people cope best when exposed to violence. Increasingly it is understood, even by the police and military, that acknowledging these issues is not "soft" but instead an essential part of being an effective professional.
The best way of dealing with trauma-related problems is good social support from colleagues and managers, from friends and from family. Isolation can make it harder to get back on an even keel.
Itís important to:
Acknowledge what youíve been through
Sleep and eat well - and take exercise Keep to routines where possible.
Getting back to work helps recovery
Talk about it with colleagues, a partner or a trusted friend
If youíd rather not talk, it can help to write down what you feel
Take time for family and friends
Take time to reflect
Find things that make you laugh. Research suggests that humour helps
Take care with alcohol, caffeine and nicotine.
Ask for help and support if it is available
This is only a brief introduction. For more information on the effects of trauma, self-care and how to respond to a colleague's, friend's, or family member's experience of trauma, visit the Dart website and download this guide. The booklet also contains much valuable advice on how to most effectively report on trauma and interview people who have been affected by trauma.
Covering wars, disasters and other traumatic events can create health problems for journalists and other news media staff.
To assist news media professionals who suspect they might be experiencing some form of post-traumatic stress, INSI is making available an on-line self-help program made by Dr. Anthony Feinstein, that allows journalists to assess their emotional health.
The site is completely confidential and password protected to prevent unauthorised use. You may obtain a password either from your organisation or directly from Dr. Anthony Feinstein at email@example.com