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KARACHI: While chasing stories or even working on the desk in newsrooms, journalists might be facing all kinds of stress. Sooner or later it may have an effect on their work and productivity.

Therefore, ‘Learning to cope with the long-term effects of covering recurrent trauma as a journalist in Pakistan’ was a very important topic discussed by a panel of psychologists and senior journalists at the launch of the Well-Being Centre of IBA’s Centre for Excellence in Journalism at the Karachi Press Club (KPC) on Wednesday.

Clinical psychologist Dr Asha Bedar, who does counselling of journalists at the centre, observed that awareness and action in this area was too little but it was true that journalists’ jobs exposed them to a never-ending cycle of violence, risk, trauma and threats.

‘Media persons have to face violence, risk, trauma and threats all the time’

And with pressing deadlines while not getting any break from the steady flow of bad news can be extremely challenging.

“The journalists who have come to me complain of diverse issues such as depression, not being able to focus on their work, their productivity going down, lack of motivation, etc. But I find in them a willingness, an openness and a commitment to learn to deal with the issues,” she said.

Giving his input, Zahid Hussain, who works at Geo News, said that journalists in the newsroom were like doctors in a hospital’s emergency room.

“It is their responsibility to handle news with care. They also need to make sure that the news they get is not fake while being expected to make quick decisions, which can all be very stressful,” he said.

KPC’s president Ahmed Khan Malik, meanwhile, spoke about the pressure on journalists due to government agencies.

“He or she is under constant threat and is worried about family safety,” he said.

“Then the pressure is multiplied when the environment at work isn’t great. There may be an issue of very low salary or no job security,” he said.

“Another thing with journalists is that they have no social life as newspapers work at night and the electronic media round the clock. That way our families too suffer,” he added.

Senior psychiatrist Dr Uzma Ambareen agreed that definitely these stresses were a part of every media person’s life.

“They are directly exposed to trauma on the front lines and we get it indirectly from them during counselling, which also gets stressful for us,” she said.

“Another commonality between us is setting aside our feelings. You remain objective as you report. We also keep our emotions in check while treating our patients. It helps take care that we don’t get burnt out,” she said.

About the Well-Being Centre, the moderator, journalist Mahim Maher, explained that it is a free counselling service for journalists.

“It is a confidential service for journalists including freelance journalists. The clinic is situated at the University of Karachi’s IBA campus with a secluded cover to insure confidentiality,” she said.

“The sessions are about one hour long and can help journalists with issues as otherwise there is a shortage of psychologists anyway while people also are not sure whom to consult for the kind of problems they are facing. Besides, some also cannot afford the fees charged by psychologists and this service is free for consultations,” she said.

Published in Dawn, September 7th, 2018