USA TODAY International Edition
Help each other back from hell on earth
War correspondents don’t talk about the survivors’ guilt or nightmares, but that must change
The past year, while covering the war in Ukraine, I have reported under incoming fire, seen lifeless bodies strewn across landscapes and experienced complex grief that I still process today.
I know firsthand the rush of adrenaline that clouds your ability to process emotions.
War changes you as a person. I’ve reported around the world, but the invasion of Ukraine has been especially difficult to bear witness to.
Studies show 92% of journalists experience at least four traumatic situations in their careers.
With mass shootings, weather disasters and international conflict, reporters around the world are exposed to trauma each year.
Education, access to mental health resources and knowledge of productive coping mechanisms are critical to keeping our industry healthy and alive.
In the days after Russia invaded on Feb. 24, analysts said Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv could fall in a matter of days. As missiles rained down on the city and incoming artillery got closer, everyone covering the story had to make difficult decisions about their risk tolerance.
I don’t regret staying in Ukraine, but it carried a cost
I decided I would stay, even when most of our crew pulled out. It wasn’t a question for me. I don’t regret my choice, but the decision has altered my life and mind forever.
We feel OK, until we don’t. For many, post- traumatic stress disorder is not a cut or wound that stings immediately, but rather a dull scar that remains dormant until a sound, a dream or a smell brings memories rushing back in a way that makes it hard to distinguish reality from imagination.
Everyone talks about the live reports amid incoming artillery, the front- line packages and the brushes with danger. Rarely do we discuss what it feels like to get home from a monthslong assignment and lie there in silence. We don’t talk about the nightmares, the survivors’ guilt or the loss of identity from getting too consumed by the story. That needs to change.
Those of us who cover war, conflict and unrest have a responsibility to normalize the discussion around mental health and offer guidance to our colleagues across the industry that might be exposed to trauma in different ways.
Historically, the profession has romanticized drinking and drugs as a way for foreign correspondents to cope with the trauma we experience while at war. Someone once described the job to me as “a poor man’s rock star.” We travel the world, appear on TV and roll up to large hotels with crews of people.
We must now face the music of habits we created.
There has to be a new culture in journalism focused on things such as meditation, exercise and cold- exposure therapy. You can be a tough, war- hardened correspondent who goes to therapy and knows how to communicate emotions. These things are not mutually exclusive.
We interview people on the worst day of their lives
We often are there for the worst day of someone’s life. For death and disaster. Hell on earth. Staying clear- minded, present and calm is critical. We have a job to do.
Access to mental health resources, learning about our brains and finding healthy ways to deal with our experiences are important to our relationship with others and the relationship we have with ourselves. No matter where you work, if you’re struggling, ask your boss for guidance.
Fox News Media has free counseling sessions available and a mentorship program that can match staff members with people who have gone through similar things. This type of support needs to be available in every workplace that sends reporters into the field.
Addressing the struggles we face will also make us better listeners who can more acutely understand grief and trauma. From the mountains of Afghanistan to the deserts of Iraq to the coast of Gaza, I have found one constant. The civilians and soldiers we interview don’t agree to talk to us because they want to be part of the story. They speak because there is something cathartic about sharing one’s experience.
Let’s take care of our own minds, so that we can keep telling the stories that matter.