Chased by threats and nightmares while chasing stories — the story of Pakistani journalists

Chased by threats and nightmares while chasing stories -- the story of Pakistani journalists

By Raza Ruman

As Pakistani journalists chase stories, many may be chased by threats and mental health difficulties in return, a new study found. Pakistani journalists who were stalked more often, experienced more sleep difficulties, disturbing memories or nightmares and other symptoms known together as posttraumatic stress. They often also experienced higher levels of anxiety, stress or depression, which consists of low energy, low mood, and feelings of hopelessness. Over half of the journalists that participated in the study was stalked at least once during their careers.

These are some of the results of the first nationwide study of Pakistani journalists’ mental health.     

    Researchers related mental health outcomes, such as depression and posttraumatic stress, to the topics the journalists reported on and work-related threats they received.

A healthy press corps is important for any country and mental wellbeing is part of this, said Suzanna Koster, of the Vrije Universiteit in The Netherlands, which conducted the study in collaboration with the National Institute of Psychology (NIP) in Pakistan.

Levels of posttraumatic stress and anxiety were in general severely elevated amongst the study’s 296 participants with backgrounds in television, print, radio and online media. Levels of depression were also considerably elevated.

“It is telling of their resilience that despite these high levels journalists in Pakistan continue to do their work. Mental health difficulties tend to make it more difficult to for instance concentrate or feel energetic and motivated enough to perform.”

Other findings were that journalists who reported more often on natural disasters suffered more severe posttraumatic stress symptoms, than those who reported less often on natural disasters. Men and women, staffers and freelancers did not significantly differ in their mental health problems, topics they reported on orthreats they experienced, except for kidnapping. Some staffers, but none of the freelancers in the study reported to have been kidnapped.

Those working for foreign media received significantly more electronic threats and were significantly more often detained, than those who did not work for foreign media. Tragically, a third of the journalists personally knew a colleague who was murdered.

The study was conducted four years ago.

While the number of terrorism-related incidents in Pakistan dropped since then, threats against journalists have increased and, thus, it is likely that the mental health impact of career-related trauma and threat exposure is still significant, said Koster. “Therefore, we sincerely hope that our findings raise awareness about their mental health and also helps in normalising mental health problems. Feeling low or having nightmares for instance can be normal responses to experiencing abnormal things, like stalking and natural disasters.”  PAK DESTINY

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