Negative News: Can It Harm Your Mental Health?Posted: 8th of April 2015 by
Turn on the television, look at the news online, or pick up a newspaper and chances are you will be bombarded with negative news stories. Whether it is talk of terrorism, natural disasters, crime, human rights violations, or war, there is plenty of bad news being reported in the media. It is a known fact that bad news gets our attention, since we are hard-wired to look out for potentially dangerous situations. This is part of our survival instinct, and is frequently played upon by news outlets in order to sell newspapers or gain hits and viewers. While this playing on our natural instincts works for the media, there is a question as to how it affects our mental well-being. Is this constant bombardment of bad news actually bad for your health?
Some experts certainly believe that all of this negative news can be detrimental to your health, with British psychologist Dr. Graham Davey going as far as to assert that media violence can exacerbate or contribute to the development of stress, anxiety, depression ,and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Speaking in the Huffington Post, Dr. Davey stated, “Negative news can significantly change an individual’s mood -- especially if there is a tendency in the news broadcasts to emphasize suffering and also the emotional components of the story."
He continued, “In particular... negative news can affect your own personal worries. Viewing negative news means that you’re likely to see your own personal worries as more threatening and severe, and when you do start worrying about them, you’re more likely to find your worry difficult to control and more distressing than it would normally be."
How you process negative news media can even have an impact on how you interact with the world around you. If you are prone to feel anxious or sad over negative media reports then you are also likely to subconsciously view neutral events in a negative manner.
While your brain is able to differentiate between violent images in the media and the threat of violence in real life, such negative images can affect your mood and make you feel more negative towards the world and your own environment in general.
Dr. Davey explained, “These images change our overall mood to a more negative one -- more sad or more anxious -- and it is this change in mood that leads to psychological changes in the way we attend to things around us (e.g. we are more likely to pick out things in our environment that are potentially negative or threatening). This can have a vicious cycle effect on mood generally for some time."
A study from 2001 even found that some people can suffer PTSD-like symptoms after viewing negative news media. For example, some of those who witnessed media coverage of the 9/11 attacks in New York were found to be more likely to worry about future terrorist attack or even have a reduction in their own self-confidence. The severity of these symptoms was found to be directly proportional to the amount of time people spent watching television.
Journalists are not immune to these effects either, as a study found that those who were subjected to more emotionally distressing footage scored higher on indexes of PTSD. This, in turn led to secondary factors, such as alcohol consumption, depression, and physical signs of distress in the body.
Over time, exposure to graphic images can lead to either an increased sensitivity or desensitisation – whereby people become numb to disturbing stimuli.
While Dr. Davey asserted that negative news media is unlikely to cause depression, anxiety, or PTSD in those who are not already prone to such conditions, there is a risk of feeling pessimistic or world-weary, creating a situation where we see the world in a more negative light than is actually true.
While the media may have you believe otherwise, on the whole, violence is actually decreased and the quality of life has improved for millions of people. Perhaps it is time that the media showed some of this positivity too?
Then again, that just won’t sell as many newspapers!
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