Mexican journalists affected by covering violence now have online resource for mental health concerns

A new program from the Center for Journalism and Public Ethics (CEPET in Spanish) in Mexico aims to reduce the emotional and mental stress journalists covering organized crime and violence face in their jobs, announced the organization.

"Each time the phone rings in the newsroom, I would shake, thinking it was them again," a Mexican journalist told CEPET after receiving a threatening phone call.

The project aims to address the mental health of threatened journalists, those affected by the killing of a colleague, and others who work at a newspaper that covers violence. "We want to help the emotional integrity of reporters so they can continue their work while maintaining their health and the perspective necessary to practice journalism," explained Leonarda Reyes, founder of CEPET, in an interview with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

The program Circles of Solidarity, supported by the U.S.-based National Endowment for Democracy along with a collaboration between Reporters Without Borders and Tech-Palewi, provides online consultations for professionals dealing with loss of life or other traumatic events.

Due to the constant threats and attacks against the press in Mexico and the stress from covering bloody events every day, journalists report symptoms like insomnia, depression, post-traumatic stress, and substance abuse, according to a study from Dr. Anthony Feinstein of the University of Toronto. Feinstein diagnosed the mental health of 104 Mexican journalists at the request of press freedom groups Article 19 and Journalists on Foot. On his website, the doctor has a survey in Spanish so journalists can identify mental health problems and seek professional treatment.

Currently, the Circles of Solidarity website also offers information about symptoms for depression and post-traumatic stress, self-help, emergency situations, and the option to request an online consultation. The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma is another resource for journalists looking to interview victims of violence and how to responsibly cover violent acts.

Until now, Mexican journalists have lacked support and specialized resources to address mental health problems, according to Reyes. Their alternatives have been abandoning the profession, moving to another city, keeping their job at their own risk, or living with the stress of knowing they or their families could be the victims of an attack. "It's a state of fear that's not healthy," said Reyes.

During the 10th Austin Forum for Journalism in the Americas, Dart Center Executive Director Bruce Shapiro warned that exhaustion and emotional crises are effective forms of silencing and censoring journalists.

Feinstein said that the psychological scars Mexican journalists endure are more profound than those of war correspondents because their families live where the violence they cover occurs. Additionally, media outlets in Mexico have left press workers unprotected, according to the magazine Proceso.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.