Media Matters for Democracy launches ‘Dastgir’ an online mental health counselling service for Pakistani journalists

Media Matters for Democracy launches ‘Dastgir’ an online mental health counselling service for Pakistani journalists

(Islamabad, 30 June 2020) – A new service titled Dastgir will provide as many as 150 Pakistani journalists and their families the opportunity to seek free-of-cost mental health support.

The Dastgir service was launched by Media Matters for Democracy (MMFD) on Tuesday through a webinar. The virtual launch event was attended by journalists, media development experts, and civil society representatives.

While introducing the service, Sadaf Khan, the Co-founder and Director Programs of MMFD, said Pakistani journalists are currently facing multiple stressors, including financial pressures, conflict-related trauma, and the risk of contracting Covid-19.

“It is in this context that we worked on the idea of creating mental health support systems for journalists,” Ms. Khan said. “We hope that Dastgir will help and support local journalists in seeking professional counseling for their emotional well-being.”

The mental health counseling service will be offered through the Sehat Kahani telemedicine smartphone application. The service is subscription-based and a limited number of free subscriptions will be made available to journalists for a one-year duration. Interested journalists can apply for the service by visiting http://www.mediamatters.pk/dastgir.

The webinar included a panel discussion about the impact of Covid-19 on the mental health of journalists. Speakers included news talk show host Maria Memon and Dr. Sara Saeed Khurram, the Chief Executive Officer of Sehat Kahani.

Ms. Memon said the mental health aspect of news production was widely ignored in the past but the pandemic has put the spotlight on the mental health risks to journalists in Pakistan.

“Sometimes a small window of opportunity opens, and something as tragic as the pandemic has allowed us to see the mental health toll on journalists,” Ms. Memon said. “We should grasp at this opportunity and provide solutions to support the mental well-being of journalists.”

Dr. Sara said the pandemic and associated lockdown have made it more difficult for people to cope with stress and anxiety because the regular distraction strategies, such as entertainment opportunities, have become inaccessible.

“A lot of people are also scared for their health and there is constant stress about COVID,” she said. “Now the issue of mental health burden has become much more aggravated and that is why there is a need to rapidly address it.”

Daniel Clauss, the Head of the EU Delegation to Pakistan’s Political, Trade, and Communications Section, offered concluding remarks at the launch event. Mr. Clauss said it is clear that good journalism is a tough job and this job has become even more difficult and dangerous due to Covid-19.

“Journalists are frontline workers in this pandemic and they are providing essential services to society,” he said. “And as frontline workers they are vulnerable physically and regarding their mental health.”

It is clear that journalists need our support including mental health support, Mr. Clauss said. He said he hoped the Dastgir service will be used widely in the Pakistani journalistic community.

The Dastgir service is part of the Civil Society for Independent Media and Expression project. The project is supported by the European Union and is being jointly implemented by the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives, the Pakistan Press Foundation, and MMfD.