During The Alligator’s first meeting of every semester, almost every leadership team tells their eager-eyed staff of 60 people to “Take care of yourself. The Alligator should never come in the way of your physical or mental health.” While this sounds obvious, the truth is this mantra is often overlooked for the sake of journalism.
More than 70% of local journalists in a more than 500 person survey reported experiencing personal and work-related burnout, according to a 2023 survey by the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media at the University of North Carolina Chapel Gill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media. Like these journalists, The Alligator’s editorial board has heard from staff members and editors alike they need a week off because they are sick or out of town. But, when it comes to addressing burnout and mental health, it’s another story.
Needing a break shouldn’t necessitate a bar met only by physical condition. Mental health can be just as, if not more, difficult to navigate in a workplace setting.
These instances of forgetting to prioritize mental health led to this special edition. This collection of stories, stemming from data analysis, is collectively called Mind over Stigma. The name is a play on the common phrase “mind over matter” that often diminishes the real, important effects of mental health. We hope The Alligator’s reporting highlights people in the community and helps break the stigma surrounding mental health conversations.
Recognizing burnout or other mental health-related conditions is critical to fostering a healthy newsroom and destigmatizing conversations about mental health.
It’s far too easy for journalists to become desensitized to the topics they cover. The Alligator staff knows this all too well. From covering protests, bomb threats, unsettling legislation, war and more, devastating news becomes normal for journalists.
A 2019 survey interviewed over 200 United States daily newspaper journalists and found that as the frequency and intensity of journalists’ trauma coverage increased, so did the severity of their PTSD symptoms. The journalists shared examples of emotional drain, painful flashbacks, anxiety, depression, guilt and coping mechanisms such as substance abuse, stemming from their work.
But the intersection of journalism and mental health isn’t the only reason we produced this edition.
The practice of continuous pushing beyond feasible mental limits applies beyond the newsroom. Across college campuses, students neglect their mental health or deem it as an insufficient excuse for taking a break.
As college students, prioritizing mental health over education, jobs and social lives often feels like a chore. We feel obliged to push ourselves beyond our limits, then push through the exhaustion that follows. We struggle to adjust to the onset of mental health conditions like ADHD or anxiety, the toll they take on our academic performance and finding the resources to alleviate them.
Between 2020 and 2022, the percentage of students surveyed at UF who reported being previously diagnosed with anxiety rose by 40%. Similarly, the rate of ADHD increased by 81%, and the rate of depression rose by 43%.
Yet stigmas remain for students afflicted with these conditions and those who are not. The lack of
concreteness in describing mental ailments often minimizes the distress they inflict.
As student journalists, the need for mental health care becomes more prevalent by each published byline.
It’s important — but challenging, to say the least —- to not become numb to the people and topics we as journalists cover.
First and foremost, The Alligator seeks to create equitable coverage of people. Journalists master the art of compartmentalization early on, gaining the ability to cover complex topics without breaching the ethics of objectivity. But with the use of this skill comes the onset of desensitization.
When their stories, backgrounds and three-dimensionalities are glossed over and normalized, journalism
loses the human aspect necessary for that well-rounded coverage.
It’s also just as crucial for journalists to take care of their minds after covering hard topics. But putting down the pen and walking away from the job to prioritize mental health can feel costly at times.
Recognizing the mental health crises facing students and journalists is the first step in forming solutions.
Conversations like these, fostered by a commitment to promote mental health awareness and resources in the newsroom, on campus and in Gainesville are crucial. We are hopeful the conversations we have in our office and in our paper promote the next generation of journalists to care for themselves the same way they care for their stories.