Today is World Mental Health Day, the aim of which is to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and to mobilize efforts in support of mental health. We are proud to support Hannah Storm and John Crowley, Co-Founders of the Headlines Network, an organization that drives conversations toward improving mental health in the media industry. Over to them …
The past two years have been incredibly difficult for many people working in the news media sector.
Many of the issues that impacted the mental health of journalists in the months and years before the global pandemic have been exacerbated by Covid. The levels of anxiety are unprecedented and yet barriers still exist which prevent many in our profession from speaking openly about their experiences.
During our journalism careers both of us have experienced poor mental health because of our work, so we combine a personal as well as a professional interest in this area. It’s why we formed Headlines Network, an organization which drives conversations towards improving mental health in the media.
We know there are significant taboos around mental health. In our media industry, there’s often a rather macho sense that we have to be tough to succeed. Research tells us journalists are largely resilient. But both of us know from speaking about our own experiences and hearing from others that vulnerability is a strength and sharing stories helps people feel less isolated.
One of the ways we aim to break down taboos is through our podcast, where we speak with storytellers about the stories that have impacted them and how they manage their mental health.
In each episode of Behind the Headlines with Headlines Network, journalists tell us about the challenges they’ve faced and how they manage their own wellbeing, and what motivates them to keep on doing that they do.
We know journalists aren’t robots. They face pressures either because of the news they cover or the situations they find themselves in, wherever they work. But because they are told to ‘never become the story’, the podcast has heard testimonies previously untold by the storytellers themselves.
Because showing emotion and empathy has previously been seen to interfere with balance and objectivity, we have seen journalists open up intimately about their feelings – sometimes for the first time.
Traditionally those pressures might have stemmed from physical environments. The first guests on our podcasts – Lyse Doucet and Lindsey Hilsum and then separately Clive Myrie – spoke at length about the impact of being in physical danger in Ukraine.
But danger also comes from other dimensions – such as the virtual world – and we have heard how women and people from marginalized communities have been subject to violent threats and disinformation.
Marianna Spring, the BBC’s first disinformation reporter, explains the toll online harm has on journalists’ mental health when they are in the public eye.
ITN correspondents Emily Morgan and Victoria talked about the unprecedented nature of news reporting during the pandemic and how the toll of continuous reporting on this topic led them both to seek out therapy.
But it’s not just exposure to conflict and distressing stories. Many of our colleagues feel like cogs in the machine, exposed to a perfect storm that risks a mental health crisis.
There are many stressors weighing on us: failing business models, online harassment, job insecurity, macho news environments, representation and inclusion, vicarious trauma, disinformation, relentless news cycles, and the pressure to be constantly connected all play a part.
We know it can be tough for journalists to open up about these subjects but our interviewees know – as do we – that sharing our stories makes us all collectively feel less alone. Alex Crawford shared this sentiment after we published a recent episode with her, in which she bravely spoke about her mental health. We are grateful to her for speaking in a way that we know will lessen stigma.
We believe journalists are our industry’s most precious human resource.
And so, as well as speaking about mental health, our podcast also explores why journalism still matters – and why the human beings who deliver us the news matter too.
Central to our podcast’s mission are the insights and tips our interviewees have learned over the years to deal with the stresses and strains of journalistic life.
We want our listeners to go away with actionable takeaways – we want them to know that they are not alone, that showing vulnerability is a strength rather than a weakness, and that storytellers have their own stories as well.
Headlines Network has significant experience in facilitating conversations at an industry level and with individual newsrooms, helping create space so people feel heard and able to share their own experiences. As neutral experts, we have helped bridge the conversations between management and journalists. We have also got extensive experience in advising leaders on how to model the kind of behaviour that helps ensure cultures of compassion, inclusion and empathy. Headlines Network also provides tips and training for people across the media industry. We work with other experts from the mental health field to help support our advice and offerings.