Journalists who report on violent events are at increased risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety, according to a new study that analyzed the emotional well-being of journalists covering the violence in Kenya.
Two major Kenyan news organizations took part in the study, which focused on two traumatic events — the 2007 election violence that left 1,000 Kenyans dead and the attack on the Westgate Mall in 2013 when Al-Shabab insurgents killed 67 Kenyans.
The research found that psychological counseling was offered to less than a quarter of journalists reporting conflict in Kenya.
“Psychological data obtained over the last 10 years from journalists working in European, American, or Middle Eastern theatres of conflict demonstrates that the prevalence rate for post-traumatic stress disorder approaches that seen in combat veterans,” said study leader Dr. Anthony Feinstein.
“This study addresses the dearth of data for conflicts in Africa which is important given the fact that of the continent’s 53 countries, half are either currently at war or have only recently seen the end of armed conflict.”
According to the findings, two-thirds of the journalists had been offered bribes or told to drop a story and one in five had been injured while reporting. Symptoms of PTSD were present to a “moderate” degree in those who had covered the election violence, particularly in those who had been wounded during the process.
“A notable finding was the markedly different psychological responses from journalists to their coverage of the election violence and the Westgate Mall attack. The primary reason for this is likely to have been their proximity to danger,” said Feinstein, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto.
Most of the journalists who reported on the Westgate massacre were not directly exposed to danger, but those who covered the post-election event were first-hand witnesses to terrible violence as whole communities were destroyed and the media became the focus of mob rage. Here, said Feinstein, the risks were life threatening, the dangers underscored by the number of journalists injured.
“The deeply traumatic nature of this exposure to violence is highlighted by the fact that seven years on from the rioting and mayhem, prominent symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety remain,” said Feinstein.
“We hope that this study will encourage news organizations in Kenya and other African countries that send journalists into harm’s way to look out for their psychological health and offer confidential counseling as a matter of course.”
The findings are published in the journal JRSM Open.
Source: JRSM Open