New Zealand’s media was recently hit with the news of the loss of Greg Boyed. His sudden death affected many. Over the following days, as a chaplain dedicated to giving my time to people who work in the media, I touched base with, and spent time processing with a number of people who were feeling natural grief over the loss.
The media can be a tough place to work. Elements remain of a culture where the stereotypical hardened journalist is what many aim to be or try to cultivate in others. Couple that with the rapid changes taking place in the industry, job uncertainty that goes with those changes, increased busyness in the lives of people in our wider culture, and the associated increase in anxiety levels, and you’ve got a recipe for problems. Sadly, it’s still not the norm to say when you’re not doing ok.
In the face of that, many recognise the need for change. Circumstances like the tragic death of Greg Boyed act as a wake-up call. Following the tragedy some have mentioned to me that they appreciate what it has awoken in their workplaces – people talking to each other, sharing their grief, and a seeming awareness of the importance of the need to talk as a significant part of maintaining positive mental health – and the desire for that to continue.
Sadly, without people intentionally pursuing a culture change, it’s my belief that those glimpses of something better will not remain. As people get back into the rhythm of their work and lives, and the news cycle moves on, it becomes inevitable that the well-entrenched habits and rhythms return.
Culture change takes work. If we recognise that we do not want people struggling alone and in the dark; if we wish for people to feel like they are able to say something when life isn’t going so well, we need to be willing to work on it. It takes workplaces being attuned to people’s personalities and it takes people asking each other how they’re doing in a way that’s deeper than a passing greeting.
I do what I do because I believe the health and quality of our media relies on healthy people. If people feel grounded and stable, it is inevitably reflected in the quality of their work and they are more than likely to keep at it. We can’t simply see people as expendable cogs in a machine that are easily replaceable when they break down. We have to actively work to prevent the breakdown.
The responsibility to enact organisational culture that truly has the mental health of its people in mind goes both up and down. Boards, executives and employers have a responsibility in that area from the top down, but individuals can also work to be attentive to their colleagues, enacting that culture from the bottom up.
As a chaplain, I’m available to act towards that culture from within any part of the organisational spectrum. If you’re involved in leading an organisation and would like someone proactive to be involved in getting to know and listening to your staff, get in touch. If you’re an individual within the media who wants someone to talk to confidentially, don’t hesitate to touch base with me. I am not a counselor, but can recommend counseling if needed. I’m the person that you can sit down with over coffee and simply chat about whatever’s happening for you.
Let’s not let this moment of addressing mental health in the media pass without some intentional steps toward further enacting positive culture change. It’s clear that lives depend on it.
Rev. Francis (Frank) Ritchie is the Director and lead chaplain for Media Chaplaincy New Zealand. If you work in the media and would like to sit down and have a confidential chat with Frank over coffee to discuss life and work, feel free to get in touch via the ‘Contact’ page.