Canadian journalists struggling with ‘far above average’ mental health issues, study finds

Canadian journalists are suffering disturbingly high levels of work-related stress and injury, according to a new report based on a first-of-its kind survey of media workers. (Image Credit: Alamy)

Canadian journalists are suffering disturbingly high levels of anxiety, depression and burnout, according to a new report based on a first-of-its-kind survey of media workers.

Taking Care: a report on mental health, well-being and trauma among Canadian media workers is based on 1,251 detailed survey responses from a range of media workers, from freelancers to those at the executive level.

Tabled at a news conference on Parliament Hill, sponsored by Senator and former Edmonton Journal columnist and investigative journalist Paula Simons, the study was conducted between Nov. 1 and Dec. 18, 2021. It indicates growing harassment, increasing workloads, job insecurity and a culture that neglects employee health are contributing to media workers experiencing mental health issues at a rate far exceeding the Canadian average, with 69% of those who took part reporting anxiety, 46% depression, and 15% post-traumatic stress injury (PTSD).

By comparison, major depression affects approximately 5.4% of the Canadian population, and anxiety disorders about 4.6% of Canadians, according to data provided by the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Journalists were also asked about the toll of covering stories involving death, injury and suffering. Two-thirds of respondents said they’d been negatively affected by covering graphic or disturbing stories, 80% suffered burnout as a result of trauma coverage, and one in 10 had experienced thoughts of suicide after covering a traumatic event.

How are journalists dealing with the stress? 46% reported high-risk drinking, with 26% identifying as heavy drinkers. 53% had sought medical help to deal with work stress or mental health issues. 85% of respondents indicated they had never received any type of on-the-job training to cope with mental health issues arising from trauma they might encounter in the course of their work.

‘Wake-up call’ for industry

“The Taking Care survey results confirm some of our worst fears and suspicions about our industry,” said Carleton University journalism professor Matthew Pearson, one of two lead researchers on the project, in a release. “The onus now is on newsroom leaders, executives and journalism educators to grasp the gravity of this situation and meaningfully address it to stop the harms Canadian media workers are suffering on the job.”

“Journalists and media workers expressed high rates of job satisfaction,” said Dave Seglins, a senior investigative journalist with CBC News and the project’s other lead researcher. “What that tells us is that many people love their jobs, but their jobs don’t always love them.”

“This is a wake-up call,” he added. “There is an alarming amount of stress in virtually all corners of the industry and something must be done. This is not just a ‘management issue.’ Everyone in the industry – from the frontlines, to assignment, to newsroom managers, to corporate executives, to unions and associations – all have a role to play in changing the culture.”

The study received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma, and Carleton University. It will be the subject of two bilingual sessions at the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) National Conference in Montreal, May 27-28.


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