Coronavirus: effect of the media on mental health

Have you ever wondered what effect “bad news” can have on psychological well-being?

We live in a period in which the threat of a pandemic now known as the coronavirus reigns . But also in which we are confronted with the danger of involvement in wars with a global resonance, political conflicts and crises, terrorist threats, natural disasters, murders and accidents of greater or lesser gravity.

Well, in all of this we rarely pause to reflect on what effect such media bombardment can have on mental states.

Some may feel overwhelmed by the weight of the negativity of such news and fuel anxieties and insecurities , helplessness and depressive aspects. Others may react with detachment and little emotional involvement as if to defend themselves from feelings that are too painful and distressing.

Every day each of us is faced with events in everyday life that can have a significant impact on mood. Consequently on mental health . In addition to respecting the right to information, television programs should promote “positive hedonic experiences”, aimed at encouraging positive affects and minimizing negative moods, thus evoking pleasure and promoting mental well-being (Deci & Ryan, 2008).

Studies on the relationship between media reports and mental health

Some scholars have investigated the possibility that the negative emotional contents transmitted by television programs cause marked changes in mental states and different levels of activation based on the characteristics of the person. Finally, the emotions elicited may vary according to the dominant themes presented by the mass media.

Many television news broadcasts focus more on the relevance of negative news rather than positive news. The risk is “to be swept away in a spiral of negativity and curiosity” (Lewis, 1994).

One reason to emphasize the negative value of news can be found in the need to compete to grab a greater number of plays, focusing on the transmission of emotionally relevant material.

However, the presence of “ bad news ” within the news is one of the reasons that can lead to the loss of interest and the decrease of concentration in viewers to avoid confronting too much negativity (Klein, 2016).

News, anxiety and depression

The results of some studies suggest that watching predominantly negative news programs increases scores on self-administered assessment tools that detect depressive or anxious mental states and would subsequently lead to incentivizing the catastrophing of personal concerns.

Anxious and depressive moods would tend to generate errors in the processing of information, favoring the focus on dangers or negative material.

The role of brooding

Anxious mental states, for example, predispose to deal with threatening contents (Wells, 1994), often relating to topics in accordance with current issues dealt with by the media, which can predispose to brooding .

Furthermore, negative mental states (especially depressive ones) facilitate access to congruent memories (negative or threatening memories) with these moods and affect mood (Mathews & MacLeod, 1994).

Such distortions in the processing of information congruent with mood are causal factors in chronic and pathological brooding (Wells, 1994).

In particular, the attentional bias of focusing on threatening contents induced by an anxious mental state would lead to processing and retaining “bad news” with greater relevance, increasing the possibility of triggering the brooding process .

This could increase phenomena typical of chronic worry processes such as the excess of negative knowledge and the tendency to catastrophize potential threats.

Finally, the increase in negative mental states as a consequence of viewing negative news would be associated with the increase in the catastrophication of personal concerns rather than associated with the content of the news itself.

This is consistent with the theory that negative moods are a causal factor in facilitating brooding or a tendency to worry (Wells, 1994). Some studies also show that by inducing a negative mood, this can have a causal influence on brooding regardless of anxiety and depression measures .

Difference between brooding and non-brooding

Some authors have suggested that the difference between brooders and non-brooders can be found in the fact that the former more easily access memory drawers containing catastrophic answers to catastrophic questions such as “What if …?”.

They have a network of associations that negative events provided much wider and richer non rimuginatori (Vasey and Borkovec, 1992). Negative moods alone may be enough to recall such material and this could keep the sequences catastrophic.

Finally, negative news programs not only appear to negatively impact such moods, but likely exacerbate individuals’ personal anxieties and concerns .

Intuitively, one might expect reports of wars, poverty, murders, epidemics, etc. could lead to mulling over such matters. In reality, the effect of such news appears to be extended to a wider range of contents not specifically related to the contents of the programs themselves.

Concluding remarks

In terms of the psychological health of viewers, it would be important for television schedule programming to consider these effects when preparing and planning programs containing emotionally negative content.

The massive exposure to news concerning the risk of a pandemic and the way it is managed by the media, including threats of alarmism, fake news and detailed updates in real time, therefore involve the transit of people between states of anxiety, fear and helplessness .

However, even the type of news can have different effects on mental health and in this regard, McKeon (2020) observed how news about communicable disease outbreaks have the power to trigger levels of anxiety and fear “enormously disproportionate” to the real risk. .


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