Mental health for media professionals must be prioritised

18th April 2024
This was the conclusion of our workshop discussion on workplace mental health and wellbeing policies for media professionals, held at this year’s Radiodays Europe conference. 
A journalist working on a computer in Newsroom. Credit: Fedorovekb /

At Radiodays Europe last month, the Public Media Alliance led a workshop on mental health for media workers, with dozens of participants. During the workshop, professionals from across Europe – including reporters, DJs, managers; some office-based, others who worked in the field; some on air – shared their experiences, concerns and solutions to this vital issue.

We asked three questions: what are the main issues and harms affecting staff mental health at work? What are the barriers that are stopping it from being addressed effectively? And, what are the solutions that are being implemented, or should be implemented, in their workplaces?

Their names and companies remain anonymised, but there was a consistent trend across the industry in Europe, which have been detailed below. For some examples – like uncertainty with change – nearly everyone agreed it was a main issue for them, no matter where they worked, and that not enough was being done to assuage their concerns.

They also shared some of the barriers to resolving the issues but, importantly, they also shared their solutions or what they would like to see done to make their lives and jobs easier. Here’s our summary of discussions:

The problems

The participants at both sessions provided a full, frank, and lively discussion about the experiences of mental health in their workplaces – both public and commercial. The issues could be personal, but many stemmed from stresses and concerns at, or related to, their workplace.

One of the issues was the work itself, and the stresses faced by workers in a fast-changing media industry. A lot of overtime is being done, one person said, and it is taking a toll on work-life balance. There are also more tasks to do – often with little resource – when it comes to creating and maintaining a presence on both linear platforms and online.

Other people emphasised that the changing nature of the industry had created a lot of uncertainty about the future, which is taking a toll, and it had also diminished the clarity of roles. The tempo of the industry and the workloads and changes meant the participants are witnessing a lot of people burning out. Some participants felt that senior management and executives made little effort to communicate changes, or to offer reassurance about how they would be helped through them.

Money and resources were another area highlighted by most participants. People aren’t being paid enough for the extra work, they said, and the financial pressures of life could affect mental health at work. But also, station or network revenues are shrinking, advertising revenues are dropping, or public funding is uncertain. All of these took tolls on mental health, especially when people were having to consider making cuts or facing a lack of resources to do a job properly. In many newsrooms, there is the looming threat of redundancies.

Social media was also highlighted as a cause of detrimental mental health. It has made staff more accessible, but has also made it easier than ever for personalities and journalists to be subject to a whole range of abuse, from negative comments on public posts, through to threatening direct messages. The participants also noted an increase in hate speech on social media, which included the targeting of media. The political polarisation in society is filtering through to the way media workers are being treated when trying to work in the field, to the point many are worried about their safety and security.

Internally, the discussion about office culture highlighted a lack of feedback, certainty and openness. Some people, when raising concerns are told things like ‘that’s just the way it is’. There were also fears of creating a stigma, or of being seen as a person who isn’t up to the task. A lack of feedback or development was also raised as an issue, and work is needed to be done to create environments where it is safe to raise issues or concerns.

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The barriers

After laying out the problems, participants brainstormed what some of the barriers to implementing solutions may be and why. They also discussed what plans and policies there are at their organisations, but how they might not be as effective as they could otherwise be.

Many participants said their workplaces do have strategies or plans for mental health and wellbeing, but translating this into a practiced reality often falls short. Some staff didn’t know that there was help on hand until it was too late.

Company cultures are also proving immovable in some cases. At bigger companies, many people don’t know who they can approach if they did have an issue, or feel they don’t have a voice.
Some from small organisations described a guilt or stigma for fear of letting others down. Some people said organisations and their internal structures are too slow to adapt to realities like social media.

Work is also needed to prioritise mental health properly, they said, with budget constraints sometimes giving the perception that the safety of staff is not a priority. Many managers or superiors also lack understanding, some participants said, and strict hierarchies mean some feel uncomfortable when it comes to broaching an issue – particularly for young and experienced staff.

The barriers to stopping abuse via social media are huge. They also agreed that many broadcasters need to work out how to balance the need to be present on social media, particularly when content strategies are shifting to personality-based ones in some organisations, with limited support for those who are thrust into the spotlight and becoming targets of social media abuse.

Another significant barrier is the day-to-day pressures of the job, with so much to do it is often difficult to prioritise mental health until it is too late.

The solutions

Having aired the issues and barriers, participants then moved to an engaging discussion about solutions. Some of the ideas were very simple and easy to implement, while others required dedication and resource from organisations. In many cases, these solutions were already happening, but to varying degrees of success.

Our participants said managers and editors should be better trained to identify the main problems or issues, and to take relevant action. There should also be training to overcome attitudes that are dismissive towards mental health, they said, and to create a culture where it is safe to say ‘I’m not okay’ without fear of repercussions. It is also important for managers and executives to stay familiar with the “realities at the coalface,” one participant said. It was also recognised that managers and executives – whether through being open about their own mental health or just publicly recognising the importance of their staff’s mental health – could have a big impact on the culture within an organisation.

Having appropriate policies was also seen as important, and those strategies need to be clearly articulated to the whole organisation and easy to find when they are needed. But it was also accepted that this all takes money and resource, which some small and under-funded organisations don’t have. Some participants suggested that partnerships between companies in the welfare space, or bigger companies sharing their policies and plans with smaller ones could be beneficial.

Peer support networks outside of direct management hierarchies were also seen as important. In some cases – such as LGBT or diversity networks – they are seen as invaluable, so that experiences could be shared and solutions offered, but they are also important in fostering a community and trusted network. In some cases, some participants described forming a network across multiple organisations which they said leaders should be open to doing. Others spoke of the invaluable role of trained mental health first aiders or the availability of mental health days.

“The organisation should have open communication and trust to talk openly about mental health,” one person said, and that could be as simple as regular check-ins or asking what could be done to make their job easier.

But overall, there was agreement that it should be made a priority.