The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) held its annual meeting this week in Minneapolis. On the agenda was a collaboration between NABJ and the National Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi) to address the health effects of repeated exposure to traumatic event news among journalists. The workshop was coordinated by Muriel Evans-Buck of NABJ and moderated by Carolyn Drees of Reuters. The panel consisted of two national members of ABPsi who operate clinical practices in the Twin Cities, Dr. Pearl Barner II and Dr. Willie Garrettt. Barner recently retired from heading the mental health clinic at the University of Minnesota’s Boynton health services. Dr. Garrett, also in private practice, is the president of the local chapter of ABPsi. They were joined by Dr. Dierdre Golden, Behavioral Health Director at NorthPoint Health and Wellness Centre and Resmaa Menakem, a clinical social worker and internationally known expert on trauma therapy, and author of Rock the Boat: How to use Conflict to Heal and Deepen Your Relationships.
The panelist talked about how journalists, because of their work, can be exposed repeatedly to primary stressors while at the same time
feeling forced to ignore the physiological indicators of stress on their bodies. Black journalists, in particular, may be even more susceptible due to the impact of what the psychologists referred to as “historical trauma” a form of intergenerational stress thought to be suffered by African Americans. In addition, many Black journalists find themselves in situations where they lack a ready support system.
The panelists also alerted the audience to how secondary stressors may be affecting people in the trade who are not on the front lines, but who never-the-less suffer repeated exposure to stressful events because they are forced to follow Twitter feeds or spend time in the editing room viewing disturbing content that the rest of the public never sees. Moreover, their children and families may be subjected to secondary stress through their associations with the journalist.
Audience members shared very personal stories of how many of them have been traumatized by the work that they do and how they found themselves without any guidance on where to turn for help. The panelists pointed out that some journalism schools are beginning to include courses on how to cope with the impact of trauma on the job, that Black journalists may need to look into forming their own support group of “trusted” colleagues, but perhaps away from the newsroom at first. They also suggested using organisational ties like those within NABJ as a source of support. As well, they reminded the audience that most employers do have some type of employee assistance program that could be a good place to start.
For the most part, however, these mental health professionals were suggesting that all of us need to learn ways to inoculate ourselves against stress, and that we need to include in our daily routines ways to disconnect from the continuous onslaught of
media input that we experience every day. We need to eat the right foods, get regular exercise, and develop a sleep hygiene that ensures that we are able to decompress before bedtime, and allow sufficient time to sleep, giving our nervous system a chance to reset itself.
Most in the room agreed that it might be a good idea for organizations like NABJ and the Association of Black Psychologists to look into how both can collaborate going forward.