CJID tackles psychological impact of COVID-19 reporting on journalists

The Premium Times for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) in collaboration with the Olive Prime Psychological Services on Tuesday organised a psycho-social webinar to discuss the ‘Psychological effect of Reporting in Difficult Times’ for reporters.

The webinar had Motunrayo Oyelohunnu, MD Olive Prime Psychological Services; Ayo Ajeigbe, Lead Clinical Psychologist, Olive Prime Psychological Services; Nicholas Ibekwe, Head of Investigations Premium Times and Sharon Ijasan, Broadcast Journalist TVC as panellists.

The word ‘mental’ coined from the word ‘mind’ was described by Ms Oyelohunnu as a subject a lot of individuals including “journalists shy away from meanwhile it connotes the pattern of thought, cognition, behaviour and mood that affect human activities and productivity.”

“Recognising that journalism is an essential need during this pandemic period, journalists have been effectively doing their job at the expense of their mental health which is not healthy and can as well affect productivity,” Mr Ibekwe said. describing this as “suffering and smiling.”

Due to the kind of complex beats some journalists cover especially in the area of conflict, Mr Ajeigbe explained the disorders likely to happen.

“They include death anxiety (results from seeing and taking pictures of dead bodies), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Complex PTSD and Societal anxiety.”

SIGNS JOURNALISTS SHOULD WATCH OUT FOR BEFORE SEEKING HELP

Ms Oyelohunnu spoke on some signs journalists should watch out for as they do their job. She split the signs into four broad categories.

Early warning signs:

  • Insomnia (poor sleep)
  • Problems with appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Low mood
  • Loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities.

Anxiety symptoms to include:

  • Excessive worrying
  • Feeling tensed or nervous
  • Anticipation for impending doom.

Physical symptoms to include:

  • Feels lump in the throat
  • Persistent headache
  • Heart palpitation

Trauma symptoms to include:

  • Anxiety
  • Flashback
  • Hypervigilance

She explained further that these symptoms are likely to occur mostly when the individual is on isolation.

“The sad part of the whole thing is that most journalists ignore these signs and continue their job even at the detriment of their mental health,” Mr Ibekwe said explaining why most journalists ignore signs of poor mental health.

He stated that the ‘Superhero indoctrination’ is one major part of the reason journalists don’t open up about their mental health.

He said journalists are trained to serve public interest first before themselves. In other words, he said they are trained with the ‘save the world’ mentality.

Giving credit to the hard work they do (working round the clock), he said the poor welfare of journalists in Nigeria is of concern.

‘Nigerian journalists are among the worst paid workers in the world and this is also one major cause of frustration for journalists,” he added

Treatment

On treatments one can give him or herself before seeking professional help, Ms Oyelohunnu said:

‘‘Anyone irrespective of age, gender, race or whatever is exposed and can have a mental health problem. Secondly, we need to recognise that our jobs put us at risk so, therefore, we need to take care of ourselves…’’

Furthermore, she gave the acronym ‘ALGEE’ whereas A- approach the problem, L- listen in a non-judgemental way, G- give support, E- encouragement to speak to an expert (avoid self-diagnosis) and E- encourage other forms of support.

On roles media organisations have to play to ensure a sound state of their staffs’ mental health, Ms Ijasan stated: “that it is important that media organisations notice and understand that their staff are vulnerable and should be able to detect when something is wrong through the help of a special mental health team set up for that purpose.”

Mr Ibekwe advised journalists “to avoid procrastination, take leaves, plan time, know their trigger, avoid taking too much job and learn how to budget their pays.” He strongly attested to the fact that these few tips would go a long way to improve mental health for journalists.

Mr Ajeibe gave some few tips for journalists on how to handle anxiety while covering the COVID-19 pandemic.

He stressed the point of ‘positivity’ stating that ’ …We cannot control tomorrow but we can control what happens now’.

He further stated that journalists should have a plan for movement when going out for fieldwork, “worry less and take proper care of themselves without expecting anyone to do that for them.”

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