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Worried about mental health effects of your work? MCK curriculum offers help

By Mutisya Leo

The Media Council of Kenya is in the process of finalising a modular-based curriculum on mental health reporting for media practitioners. A third and final version of the document is in the offing, the current draft having been validated by stakeholders last Monday, November 21.

The impact of mental health among journalists is accentuated by the onset of COVID-19. Journalist Olivia Messer quit her job as the lead COVID-19 reporter at the Daily Beast because of extreme stress. She proceeded to conduct a research, interrogating dozen local and national journalists who were experiencing some of the dejection and anguish that she endured.

”Many of them told me they do not feel supported by newsroom leaders; that they do not have the tools they need to handle the trauma they are absorbing; and most of their bosses do not seem to care about how bad it has gotten. Some said they are still finding themselves sobbing after meetings, between meetings, on calls, during work, or when the day ends”, she wrote.

MCK encountered similar sentiments at the height of COVID-19 in 2020. Internal reports indicated a dire need among journalists and reporters across the country who indicated varied needs to ameliorate the impact COVID-19 had visited upon them. Most journalists had to adopt working from home or to changing careers.

This prompted MCK to undertake a comprehensive survey on the state of mental health among journalists in Kenya. The findings were indicative of a sector bogged down by mental health challenges. More than half of the total respondents reported that they knew at least a colleague who had experienced mental health issues arising from their work as a journalist.

The respondents highlighted reporting on conflict/disturbing scenes, attacks/intimidation on the line of duty, COVID-19 pandemic, work pressure/work environment, lack of frequent counselling, a bad boss, poor remuneration, being overworked, and lack of work-life balance as being the main causes of mental health issues for their colleagues arising from working as a journalist.

This curriculum is therefore timely. Its overall aim is to empower media stakeholders as well as future journalists to professionally research, collate and publish information/stories around mental health in a non-stigmatising manner. It lists eight objectives against eight outcomes typical of every good research in matching an objective to an outcome.

The curriculum, which forms part of the learning resources available at the MCK Africa Media Academy eLearning, aims to impart knowledge among participants to enable them to: define basic concepts in mental health; describe the most commonly held attitudes, beliefs and depictions about mental health; explain ways through which the media shapes the attitudes and beliefs about mental health conditions; describe the common types and causes of mental health conditions and describe the ethical principles of mental health reporting.

Some of the impacts expected at the end of the three-week training are that the participants will apply theoretical knowledge to identify and describe the burden of mental health in Kenya; that they will demonstrate practical knowledge in communicating in a non-judgmental language while reporting on mental health. This skill is critical as gaps have been observed in media content analysis, where reporters show little understanding of the subject matter or are insensitive to victims. Besides, while the last AJEA 2021 produced winners in this category, their works were critiqued by mental health experts for not meeting certain basic standards.

Importantly also, it is anticipated that they will write reports that normalise the prevalence of mental health conditions and emphasise help-seeking behaviours and recovery. If this then is achieved, media would without a doubt contribute to better society for people struggling with mental health issues.

The curriculum is programmatic-inspired running for three weeks, and for quality assurance the drafters propose a review every three years.

The curriculum results from an ongoing partnership between MCK and Basic Need, an NGO which dedicates resources and capabilities to protect, promote and actualise the basic needs and rights of persons with mental health challenges. Hopefully, this noble initiative will not gather dust in some shelves or be forgotten on some cloud server but will be utilised proper to improve reporting and media content in the foregoing.

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