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Reuters boosts support for staff with mental health issues

Reuters has appointed a veteran journalist experienced in working in hostile environments to help colleagues affected by mental health issues.

He is Dean Yates (photo), a former Baghdad bureau chief who is recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Last year he spent five weeks in a psychiatric unit in Melbourne, Australia receiving treatment for PTSD.

Reuters already has in place programmes and resources to help editorial staff safety, security and wellbeing. Now it is increasing its efforts in the area of trauma and stress prevention with the creation of a new role: Journalist mental health and wellbeing advocate.

Reginald Chua, executive editor, editorial operations, data & innovation, and Sara Birmingham, global head of human resources, said in a joint announcement: “Staff safety and wellbeing are critical topics for all of us and areas of great importance to our leadership team. In addition to weekly, sometimes daily, check-ins we have on various staff deployments around the world, we are extremely proud of the programs and resources we have put in place for both safety and security.”

These include continuous access to advice on security and tactical decisions related to assignments and areas of risk, a global trauma programme that features a 24/7 free, confidential hotline that can put callers in touch with counsellors, and a peer network of Reuters volunteers trained to support editorial colleagues struggling with the challenges of work and life. 

Last November, Yates filed a special report detailing his personal struggle with PTSD resulting from his experiences covering war and tragedy in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. 

Yates covered some big stories during 23 years as a Reuters journalist - the Bali nightclub bombings in 2002, the Boxing Day tsunami in Indonesia’s Aceh province in 2004, three stints in Iraq from 2003 to 2004 and then a posting to Baghdad as bureau chief from 2007 to 2008. From 2010 to 2012, based in Singapore, he oversaw coverage of the top stories across Asia each day.

“As Dean thought about his return to work at Reuters after a leave of absence, it was not as a journalist, but as an advocate - a role where he hopes to help change newsroom culture and the stigma around seeking help. As we and others discussed it further, it became clear that this was a natural next step both for our goals as an organization, and for Dean, considering his personal experiences,” the staff announcement said.

Yates, who now lives in Tasmania, will report to Chua and work closely with Michael Christie, general manager, global logistics and security, and the human resources team. He will help support existing programmes and will also explore new opportunities and enhancements around resilience and prevention. He will focus on increasing overall awareness among managers and staff, sharing information on wellness and mental health, building up resources already available on Reuters’ internal communications systems, and other manager training and wellbeing offerings, such as mindfulness and resilience training. 

“Dean is not only a seasoned and experienced journalist, but is also highly respected by his peers,” the announcement said. “While he does not purport to be an expert in stress and trauma prevention, we believe he will be a dedicated advocate in bridging the gap between journalists who may be reticent about seeking help and the programs we have in place. And we hope he can help find ways to make our environment more open about engaging on this important topic.”

In addition to the new role, Reuters will also introduce a new set of hostile environment training modules for all journalists and stringers, and will pilot mindfulness projects in each of the three regions over the course of this year. 

Yates wrote on Facebook: “In the months after my discharge, I raised the idea of a mental health advocacy role with Reuters management in New York. To my delight, they showed immediate interest. Sara Birmingham, our global head of HR and Reg Chua, executive editor for operations, even flew to Sydney from New York to sit down with me to work out what the role would look like.

“I want to also thank Jean Yoon, Reuters Asia editor, and Mark Bendeich, then the top news editor for Asia, for not hesitating to give me time off when I was diagnosed with PTSD in March 2016. That dragged into many months but at no time was I pressured to return to work. Jean and others also quickly approved my (expensive) treatment at Ward 17.

“I plan to do everything I can to break down the stigma around mental illness at Reuters and elsewhere. Many people don’t want to raise mental health issues because they fear it will harm their career. I get that. But we need to regard mental illness as we would any physical injury because the sooner someone gets help the greater the chance of recovery.” ■