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Breaking the taboo: ‘I reported from conflict zones and got post-traumatic stress disorder’

The beheadings of Steven Sotloff and James Foley by Islamic State extremists has prompted foreign correspondent Nadine Marroushi to open up about something foreign correspondents working in war zones rarely talk about: their mental health
Nadine Marroushi is a journalist and Middle East specialist. She is currently based in London.

The beheadings of Steven Sotloff and James Foley by Islamic State extremists has prompted foreign correspondent Nadine Marroushi to open up about something foreign correspondents working in war zones rarely talk about: their mental health

Nadine Marroushi is a journalist and Middle East specialist. She is currently based in London.

Nadine Marroushi is a journalist and Middle East specialist. She is currently based in London.

Nadine Marroushi is a journalist and Middle East specialist. She is currently based in London. Photo: Nadine Marroushi
By Nadine Marroushi1:23PM BST 04 Sep 2014
The beheading of journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley by Islamic State militants has reminded me of the immense risks we face as journalists working in the field and frontlines of conflict. It’s the ultimate price we pay for the privilege of bearing witness.

I too paid a price after three years of reporting in Egypt, but one of a different kind: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s an illness that’s little discussed among journalists, and more often associated with what soldiers experience post-war. However, for those working in conflict zones, its effects can be debilitating.
Since July 2013, Egypt has been particularly hostile. I reported from the field on August 14, the day Egypt experienced its Tiananmen Square massacre. Over 1,000 people were killed in a single day in what Human Rights Watch called “the most serious incident of mass unlawful killings in modern Egypt history”.
Last September, I travelled to Egypt’s north Sinai Peninsula, which borders Gaza and Israel, to report on the state’s counterinsurgency against militant groups. I went there, as a freelance journalist, when no foreign news outlet would send their staff, because the risk was deemed too great. A local journalist in North Sinai was arrested for his reporting. With the help of a brave fixer, I reported on the use of scorched earth tactics to root out militants.
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I did all of this with no flak jacket or helmet, and no hostile environment training. I just wanted to do my job: bear witness and report. But, my eagerness, took its toll.
Being a female reporter in the Middle East
As a woman, living and working in Egypt, life was difficult too. Like most Egyptian women, I faced the daily exhausting experience of street sexual harassment. In early 2013, I also volunteered with a group that had formed to keep women safe from sexual assaults during large protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. On 25 January, at least 25 women were sexual assaulted and in some cases raped with sharp objects by mobs of men. There have been at least 500 survivors of sexual violence crimes in Egypt between February 2011 and January 2014.
And, life as a journalist just got worse. My colleagues were being arrested, paid unexpected visits by the police to their home, and some killed.
When it hit me
It was only when I came to London for a visit in the autumn of 2013 that I realized the psychological effects all of this had on me. I couldn’t get on a train in the underground without experiencing a panic attack. Every time I looked into a man’s eye I felt they were ready to attack me. I was terrified. The buzzing sound of helicopters always brought me back to the low flying Apache helicopters the Egyptian army flew over crowds of protesters.
I also could no longer feel any sense of happiness. I felt hopeless for Egypt and life in general. What was the point of it all, I kept asking myself, when so many people had died and risked their life for a better future and it has only got worse? When dissident publisher Mohamed Hashem announced last October that he would be leaving Egypt, because “I won’t postpone happiness until I die”, I could relate.
I cried almost daily and kept thinking it was perhaps best to end things the way authors Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath did. I kept reading about their experiences of depression. Like Emily Dickinson, “I felt a funeral in my brain”, and I wanted it to stop.
I found little discussion about journalists’ experiences of PTSD online. It was as though it was a taboo subject, and I felt embarrassed that I was experiencing this.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11074792/Isil-beheading-of-Steven-Sotloff-I-reported-from-conflict-zones-and-got-post-traumatic-stress-disorder.html

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