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“Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First”: Hannah Storm On The Importance Of Protecting Mental Health As A Journalist

Journalists must recognise the toll their job takes on their mental health, according to industry safety expert Hannah Storm.

Speaking at Leeds Trinity University’s Journalism and Media Week, director and CEO of the Ethical Journalism Network Hannah Storm mentioned she had given more workshops on “vicarious trauma”, the frequent exposure to distressing material, in the wake of the Israel-Hamas conflict than at any other point in her career.

“The past few years has brought an almost relentless capacity for breaking news”.

This constant news cycle takes an insurmountable toll on those reporting the horrors they see. While Storm stressed the importance in “amplifying other peoples’ stories”, within the talk she also made clear that “investing in journalism well-being is also investing in the well-being of journalism”.

Newsrooms have seen a cultural adjustment towards a greater incorporation of mental health and safety protocols and there has been a shift away from the “macho” culture of journalism.

“We are starting to realise that vulnerability is a strength”.  

Storm largely attributed this to how COVID-19 shifted power structures amongst newsrooms and brought about a collective focus on mental health.

Hannah Storm speaking at Journalism & Media Week

Speaking on the resilience of journalists, Storm said: “It’s a double-edged sword”. While there is a need for journalists to be able to bounce back against adversity, it is also important to recognise that to do the job properly and be able to make a difference, journalists must be wary of how the job weighs on their mental health.

She said: “Put on your own oxygen mask first. What we do is important, but we need to prioritise our well-being too. It is a fine balance.”

For journalists to protect their mental health, Storm emphasised the need to prepare for coming across distressing situations and being able to talk to trusted colleagues about what they might face. Finding a group of like-minded individuals who can talk about traumatic and stressful situations is fundamental to the protection of a journalist’s mental health.

Storm also stressed the importance of not being entirely consumed by journalism. While, the work of a journalist is vital, to have a life outside of that sphere allows the individual to decompress and ‘wind-down’.

Hannah also advised to set a time to finish work every day, monitor phone use and notifications and set aside time for oneself. Storm, an avid marathon runner, also mentioned exercise as one of the best ways to protect mental health as a journalist.

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