Mental health challenges are a growing global concern, with the World Health Organisation estimating that fifteen per cent of working-age adults have a mental disorder. In the case of media professionals, symptoms of poor mental health, such as stress and fatigue, tend to be linked to certain types of journalism, such as the coverage of wars and pandemics.
In Spain, however, trade unions and experts have identified chronic job insecurity as another significant factor for mental health challenges among journalists. In fact, they consider this to have a marked impact on the quality of journalism and information.
“It is not the same to work with a minimally decent salary, in conditions of safety and freedom to report, as it is to work with the sword of Damocles hanging over your head,” Agustín Yanel, Secretary-General of the Federación de Sindicatos de Periodistas (FeSP) told me. He added: “The mental health of journalists has worsened in recent years, and job insecurity is one of the causes”.
Stress, anxiety and fatigue
According to the latest report on professional journalism, published by the Madrid Press Association (APM), 70% of the 1328 professionals who responded to their survey recognise that there is a mental health problem in their sector. They identified symptoms such as stress, anxiety and fatigue, blaming poor wages, ongoing unemployment, and the media’s lack of political and economic independence.
To a lesser degree, the APM report also identified intrusion, lack of professional ethics and long working hours as issues that need to be addressed within the industry. Between 47 per cent and 61 per cent of contracted and freelance journalists are estimated to work more than 40 hours a week.
“The economic environment in which the work of journalists and news companies is carried out is very difficult, and, unfortunately, precariousness is the queen. Logically, it takes its toll on people’s emotional and mental health,” Alfonso Bauluz, president of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Spain, told me in an interview.
Declining journalistic quality
Bauluz highlighted poor labour relations and corporate responsibility as evidence of the constant volatility in the sector. The industry, he said, is plagued by a lack of transparency in the election of executives, financing, the distribution of institutional advertising and in its ideological, political, and economic interests. He added that this creates a climate that is not favourable for journalistic practice and quality.
Yanel agreed, pointing out that the effect on mental well-being also impacts the quality of journalism. He said: “A journalist who cannot work in conditions of complete freedom, without pressure, and with a minimally dignified working situation, will see the product he or she offers suffer, despite their best intentions.”
Threats to press freedom
As Reporters Without Borders noted in its latest report, Spain fell to 32nd place in its world press freedom ranking, three positions lower than the previous year, precisely because of increasing polarisation and precarious employment. Other related issues include the controversial Organic Law for the Protection of Citizen Security, which was branded a “gag law” and criticised for undermining journalists’ right to inform.
According to Francesc Ràfols, president of the Catalan Union of Journalists, “Spain is one of the few countries where the public’s right to information has not been regulated. No law says what happens when someone lies and manipulates information, with consequences such as the disrepute of journalism.”
Although this is the first time the APM has included mental health in its survey, it is clear that this is not a trivial issue. Mental health expert Cecilia Martínez stressed that mental disorders have a marked impact on all aspects of a person’s life, “even to the point of incapacitating the person to carry on with their daily life in a normal way.” Within the profession, unions warn of a gloomy outlook for journalism in Spain but emphasise that improving economic conditions could lift the sector and thus alleviate the pressure exerted by the current employment precariousness and its impact on journalists’ mental health.
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