Tips for Covering New Immigrant Populations with Trauma or Mental Health Issues

Following our workshop, “Covering Immigrants & Refugees,” speaker Denise Ziya-Berte, director of Mental Health at the Latin American Community Center, shared tips for working with immigrants dealing with trauma or mental health issues.

  • Become familiar with local organizations that work with new immigrant populations. Discuss emerging trends and issues with them. Find out the media needs of the community and organization. Create collaborative relationships with agencies and maintain them over time for best results—Mutual trust and functionality are key for a win-win relationship.
  • Get to know the new immigrant populations in your area and gather research and knowledge about their story. Be aware of country conditions, ongoing struggles and relevant groups (ethnicity, religion, political, etc.). Grant community leaders and service providers expert status and ask them to serve as consultants to help insure the authenticity of your information and understanding.
  • Respect the legal, emotional and economic vulnerability of your sources. Take every precaution that anonymity is maintained, as needed. Be proactive in investigating any potential risks that disclosure can bring to your sources.
  • Expect that new immigrant populations will have some history of trauma. Prepare individuals by giving them as much information about your questions and the structure of your interview as possible. Begin and end interviews with neutral, grounding questions. Allow individuals time to emotionally process information presented. Discontinue or redirect questioning if your subject appears emotionally overwhelmed or disassociated (frozen or disconnected from reality). Plan for breaks.
  • Trauma is encoded in the language in which it occurs. For the most accurate and emotionally valid interview, provide interpretation in the language of origin, even if the individual is able to communicate bilingually.
  • In the best situations, sources will be connected with and supported by mental health and/or legal advocates. If a source is unfamiliar with such services, provide specific information whenever possible.
  • In terms of what you write, provide as much information and power to your source is possible. Secure consent ahead of time, and offer a final review of the story before publication. Openly communicate your perspective and focus for the piece. Allow sources to terminate their participation and retain the rights to any information provided.
  • Be aware that sources may have experienced trauma in their country of origin and/or during their journey to their new home, where they may also experience victimization.
  • Some sources may not have the privilege of telling you the truth for a variety of reasons (their legal situation, protecting another community member, pressure from family, etc.). This may have nothing to do with their feelings about you as a journalist, your story or publication, or even about their own morality. New immigrant communities are often in survival mode and can only concern themselves with self-protection. It is your responsibility as a journalist to check the veracity of the reports in a respectful and non-judgmental manner.