Most journalists are addicted to social media. From the moment they turn their alarm off in the morning until the last glimpse at their accounts before bed, an important part of our work - and life - takes place on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
That is hardly news. What is less discussed though is how the social media habit affects our mental health.
"It's just a bunch of depressing stuff," says Philip Eil, freelance journalist from Rhode Island, adding that social networks are designed to be addictive and magnify the need to seek affirmation from others, which, makes them damaging for mental health by default.
"I have fallen into being angry or being bitter or even being nasty with people on Twitter in ways that I now regret, that I probably wouldn’t have done in person."
Eil has dealt with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression for most of his life and now writes about his experiences to raise awareness.
Social media have long been hotbeds of misinformation and targeted harassment of journalists, both of which can lead to fatigue and even burnout.
Amongst key challenges are work performance stress, maintaining work-life balance, pressure to have a non-biased social media presence, avoiding comments from trolls, legal worries, pressure to get the scoop and ethical considerations.
All this can lead to mental health problems, according to psychologist Jelena Kecmanovic who researched the impact on social media on mental health.
"All of us face competition and pressure to excel at work. Journalists, however, are receiving almost constant live feedback about how they are doing based on the number of clicks their posts are getting and number of followers they have.
"Their social comparisons are directly related to their jobs, career success, or livelihoods. All the psychological negative effects of social media like envy, depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem are thus likely to be higher for journalists."
Journalist and editor John Crowley said a good place to start a healthier relationship with social platforms is improving awareness and acknowledging that binge-scrolling is harmful to journalists.
"Journalists themselves are attacked on social media for doing their jobs. They are also being asked to do more work because of resource issues. Monitoring social media is another plate to spin as journalists are asked to retrain, pivot and do more work for less money."
These viewed are echoed by the editor of Gazeta Wyborcza, Zuzanna Ziomecka, who advocates for more efficient ways to tackle trolls and haters’ comments on social media.
"We need programmes that will teach journalists and editors how to differentiate negative comments that require a response from those that can be deleted.
"We need help assessing which threats to report and whom to report them to. And finally, we need help in building a resilient mindset to cope with the emotional fallout from reading nasty opinions about ourselves."
This requires taking the issue head on by leadership modelling healthy behaviour, and clear communication of expectations. When journalists see that doing their best at work is different from being in work mode all the time, it is easier for them to self-regulate healthy social media use, said Ziomecka.
Another tip comes from Eil, who said journalists need to practice boundaries like, for example, deleting Twitter or Facebook from your phone and only use them on desktop.
He also suggested cultivating a non-social media life and enjoying offline activities to build resilience and a support network that journalists can rely on when their feeds turn nasty.
Kyle Bessey is a MA Journalism graduate from UCLan, often covering LGBTQ+ and mental health issues.
We are diving deeper into building a sustainable newsroom at our Newsrewired conference on 27 November at Reuters, in London. Head to newsrewired.com for the full agenda and tickets.
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