Mental health support is a need among New Mexico journalists

Prickly pear cactus in bloom in Las Cruces, New Mexico. (Photo by Diana Alba-Soular)

The Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande Chapter and the New Mexico Local News Fund recognize mental health is an important aspect of journalists’ well-being. And we’ve identified a strong need for greater mental health support within the state’s journalism community.

We’re hoping to help continue destigmatizing mental health, while boosting resources for New Mexico journalists.

The pressures most journalists face on a daily basis have always been significant, but various events of the past year or so have taken them to new levels. Covering the Covid pandemic, political unrest, racism and related upheaval, and — particularly for southern New Mexico and West Texas journalists — a mass shooting in El Paso in 2019 have only intensified those long-existing stressors.

In a recent anonymous survey conducted by SPJ Rio Grande and NMLNF, 8 out of 10 journalists reported that their work takes a toll on their mental health. About half of those respondents said they’re looking for mental health resources.

Among the 37 journalists who responded to the survey, here are the top stressors they identified:

  • journalists are expected to do more at their jobs,
  • uncertainty about the future of journalism,
  • awareness that threats and attacks are being directed to journalists, and
  • feeling like they can’t report on important stories.

More than half of respondents also cited witnessing trauma in their reporting as a stressor.

The top barriers to accessing mental health services reported were “can’t afford them,” “don’t have time,” journalists are “not sure what’s available,” and they “feel they shouldn’t need them.”

Among those interested in resources, journalists expressed a desire for one-on-one counseling, group support with other journalists, training on how to support journalists in the area of mental health, and training on how to recognize and address trauma.

Journalists responding to the survey included full-time, part-time, student, freelance and self-employed. Thirty-two percent of those responding have been in the profession for 12 or more years, 27% of respondents have 2 to 4 years of experience; 22% have 5 to 8 years of experience, 14% have one year or less, and the remainder have 9 to 11 years of experience.

For decades, the subject of mental health unfortunately has carried stigma in American society. But proactive efforts on many fronts are helping to counter the sense of unease, embarrassment and shame that often have been associated with mental health conditions and care in the past.

SPJ Rio Grande and NMLNF are seeking to address this need by launching new mental health-related programming to help New Mexico journalists. These efforts are in the planning stages, but we will update you as they unfold.

If you want to talk more about mental health and journalism, get in touch with Diana Alba-Soular, NMLNF southern project coordinator, at: diana@nmlocalnews.org

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