“I think it's more of a mentorship issue. Experienced journalists should be helping younger ones find ways to cope,” said a 34-year-old male journalist.
When I spoke to firefighter Addison Dunn about ways he copes with the trauma they see, he said, “We do have a Chaplin to speak with and occasionally they bring in counselors on big events. But it’s kind of like a brotherhood. The older guys always pull you aside after an incident to check on you.”
Photojournalist Brian Wiedeke said it’s important to check in on one another and let others know you’ve utilized the mental health services as well, especially after the past year. He said, “I think a lot of people did. I think we were kind of checking in on one another and saying, 'Hey, you know, yeah, I've called this number, it's super easy.' That type of thing.”
Reverend Sidney Tompkins emphasized the importance of having a support system and other journalists who can understand what you are going through. Many journalists referenced how difficult the pandemic has been. They felt isolated. Reverend Tompkins said, “Not having the support of staff, and colleagues that you are accustomed to working with cuts off for many people the opportunity to be able to talk about what's going on, in your day to day with someone else who understands it, as opposed to going home, and talking with your family, with your spouse, with good friends or whatever. But they really don't, much of the time, do not have the ability to be able to understand what the gravity of what you might be feeling and experiencing on a daily basis.”
The ABC’s Trauma Awareness Program was developed in collaboration with the Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma.
The ABC program takes a three-tier approach: peer support group training, manager awareness and staff awareness. The training sessions begin with a powerful documentary made by ABC News in which ABC journalists and production staff talk about their experiences of covering traumatic events.
Again, Mike Walter was a part of this program. He said, “So what the ABC has created is a program where they have journalists outside of ABC who have gone through traumatic events, where you can call them day or night, and I was on that call list where somebody, wherever they're at, they could call me up and talk to me. It would never get back to the bosses, and they would talk to somebody who's gone through something who can talk to him about you know, self-care, what are you doing for yourself and you know, who are you talking to, you got to talk about this. And so I think it's a really, really unique program.”
When I spoke to Heather Forbes, who started this program for the ABC back in 2006, she said, "Peer support is the way to go.” Forbes thought it was important to train peer supporters to help other journalists. “They're not a psychologist, they're not in any way replacing a professionally trained mental health therapist,” she said. “They can often solve the problem for the person. In other words, they'll point out that you're actually suffering from trauma. You know, this is what it is. Because a lot of people don't realize that that's what they're actually suffering from. Because in your daily day-to-day life, as a journalist, you go every day.” As far as getting journalists to sign up to be mentors, she said it was quite easy. “I just sent out an email saying, listen, I'm running this program. Are you interested? And honestly, it was easy. They just came pouring in, they came pouring in, because I think they thought at last, we've got something for us. And it's by us, for us. And I keep stressing that they, they were the key to the success of the program.” Forbes explained that the peer supporter had to understand when in fact a journalist needed to be referred to someone for professional help though. Then she worked on finding psychologists who were able to understand the trauma that journalists go through. This goes back to what the Dart Center is currently working on with their Journalist Trauma Support Network which is training psychologists to work with journalists.
"Recognize that people generally aren't going to come to you and say, I'm having problems. Quiet doesn't mean okay. And newsroom leaders have to recognize that part of their job is not just to give critiques about your live shot, but also to ask how you're doing." - Poynter's Al Tompkins