Are you a journalist? There’s no shame in seeking mental health support

Rain clouds north of Las Cruces, New Mexico. (Photo by Diana Alba-Soular)

After 15 years of working in a daily newspaper, I can attest to the high levels of stress that go hand in hand with the job.

There’s the stress of daily deadlines. The stress of whether you’re going to be able to reach that source who’s critical to your next story. The stress of wondering if you misspelled a name in the article you filed just a couple of hours ago on deadline. (For any non-journalists reading, this is an actual stressor). The stress you pick up by being at a scene where, minutes before, a train slammed into a passenger car, leaving one person dead. The stress of knowing there are at least 20 important stories lingering in the back of your mind that should be covered, but you just can’t squeeze one more into your schedule. The stress of feeling like, no matter how much effort you may be pouring into the job, that somehow it’s not enough.

The list of stressors just kept growing over the years. There were fewer and fewer journalists in my newsroom. That list of unreported stories just kept growing. There was a greater emphasis on wearing multiple hats, all at once: a print reporter, a social media guru, an editor, a photographer, and a videographer. I and my colleagues wore them all.

Industry pressures added yet another component of stress. The public’s support for local news seemed to wane by the year. Bolstered by the “fake-news” rhetoric, some residents’ criticism of my newspaper, its journalists and our work grew louder than ever. Some people go so far as to verbalize threats to reporters. And journalists’ pay levels failed to keep pace with our costs of living. The job’s often odd hours, unusual stressors and time-consuming demands weren’t helpful to achieving a thriving personal life.

Thanks to support from my family, friends and colleagues, I was able to navigate some difficult times during my tenure as a journalist at a daily newspaper. Looking back, this support was invaluable to maintaining my mental health and overall well-being. Amid troubling times, a trustworthy, empathetic ear can go a long way to easing the feeling of isolation or the sense of being overwhelmed.

At one point, however, I felt the need for an even greater level of support and reached out to a professional counselor. This proved to be helpful during an especially difficult period. I gained some insights and felt better for having sought out help. Still, finances were a hindrance to me utilizing counseling long-term.

Due to a self-directed career shift, I ended up leaving the newspaper before COVID-19 struck. But I can imagine how the pandemic and civil upheaval of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021 created unprecedented, new layers of mental health challenges for journalists.

Nowadays, I’m with the nonprofit New Mexico Local News Fund, working as its project coordinator in the southern part of the state. In seeking ways to support the local news ecosystem, we’ve realized that many journalists across New Mexico are in need of greater support in the area of mental health.

Having been in the journalist’s seat, I remember feeling that I should just be able to power through all the difficult and painful circumstances in which I found myself. After all, I regularly reported on problems in people’s lives that were much more difficult and heartbreaking than anything I was experiencing. Still, I finally realized that, while resilience and mental fortitude are good characteristics to build in one’s life, they shouldn’t overshadow the importance of pursuing self-care, healing and support, especially with regard to our mental well-being.

I covered mental health as a reporter, and the insight I gained boosted my admiration for counselors, therapists and other mental health professionals who are helping others navigate all the mental and emotional challenges that go hand-in-hand with life and all of its messiness. It also boosted my admiration for the everyday people who are living with mental health conditions or addiction. It sometimes can be a rough road, but many people are on a positive pathway toward recovery.

There truly is no shame in seeking help when we face mental health challenges. PTSD, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse may be among some of the conditions journalists experience. No one should have to navigate these often deep waters alone.

Assistance can come in different ways. It helps to lean on our network of family and friends and colleagues. It helps to make self-care and healthy boundaries true priorities in our lives. And professional counseling or other mental health services can be invaluable resources on our mental health journeys.

In addition to highlighting some resources that exist in our region, NMLNF and the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande Chapter are inviting journalists to join us in the discussion about how to counter the stigma that often surrounds mental health and how to boost support for journalists in this very important area.

Feel free to reach out to me with your thoughts and ideas about journalism and mental health: diana@nmlocalnews.org

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