Monday, April 27, 2009

Fear-Based News and the Swine Flu



Okay. It's serious. The Swine Flu is creeping about nationally and globally - and we need to be careful. But don't get caught up in overdosing on television and catastrophizing about what could happen.

News is a money making industry. One that doesn't always make it a goal to report the facts accurately. Gone are the days of tuning in to be informed straightforwardly about local and national issues. In truth, watching the news can be a psychologically risky pursuit, which could undermine your mental and physical health.

Fear-based news stories prey on the anxieties we all have and then hold us hostage. Being glued to the television, reading the paper or surfing the Internet increases ratings and market shares - which raises advertising sales and profits therein.

Don't get me wrong. I'm concerned about the possibility of an influenza epidemic. I live close to where many students have come down with the flu. I am following the tips to keep me and my loved ones healthy and will limit lunching or dinnering out. I'll probably spend more time at home instead of traipsing about town.  One thing for sure, though, is that I'll stay away from mainstream news media, getting my information from places like the Center For Disease Control or the World Health Organization.

So, stay informed but don't slide into the fear.

Serani, D. (2008). If It Bleeds, It Leads: The Clinical Implications of Fear-Based Programming in News Media Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, 24 (4), 240-250 DOI: 10.3200/PSYC.24.4.240-250

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am not worried as I have an "oar"
:)

Chicago Medical Malpractice Lawyer said...

Interesting how this will pan out in lawsuits.
Who's to blame and how to recover?

Dr. Deb said...

Dear Anon,
So glad to know you feel prepared!

Dear Chicago,
Not sure about your comment. Are you a spammer?

Jade said...

Fear based news is also a great sales tactic. "Stock up on this! Get this to help, Make you're you're not left without...." great way to get people paranoid about things and to buy when its not necessary. Y2K is a great example of that. Hmmm who's really behind this all? A virus or the marketing industry.

Haha thats my conspiracy theory for the day. Hope you are doing well Deb!

alan said...

I said some similar things in a comment elsewhere recently, about our advertising-profit-driven new organizations. Having grown up at the tail end of the era of Murrow, I dread to think where he would have ended up today!

With my wife working in an Alzheimer's home most every bug finds a way home with her sooner or later; I have no doubt this one will as well. The sad part is knowing that people who can't comprehend or explain are suffering this new invader inside the haze of that ongoing one.

This afternoon I saw screeners at an international airport screening body temps on debarking passengers...so it begins!

alan

Leesa said...

In early April, I wrote about the toilet paper shortage of 1973 (http://dsmoya31410.blogspot.com/2009/04/toilet-paper-shortage-of-1973.html). And that was just a talk show comment.

There have been about 100 confirmed cases of a novel strain of swine influenza (H1N1). Right now, if you have not traveled to San Diego or Imperial Counties, California; Guadalupe County, Texas, or Mexico (or are in contact with people who have), then you are relatively safe.

Looks like Mexico closed all schools in an effort to stop the spread of the disease.

Me, I am not worried. I am more worried about the spammer malpractice lawyer in the comments section. Oh, and traveling in automobiles.

jenji said...

Don't get me started.

jenji

STAG said...

Fear can cause you to do dangerous things....

It causes people to hoard tamiflu, drive a car instead of flying to the next city, takes over important meetings, diverts funds from coping with more serious diseases, and thats just the flue. It is fear which causes the ridiculous levels of gun ownership in North America, and allows the irreversible loss of civil liberties. Most of this fear is driven by the media, though of course, world leaders will always use fear to start and maintain wars which end up killing thousands.

Fear, large scale irrational fear such as the flu scare sells papers, exercises the emergency prepardness measures, and keeps people on edge.

It doesn't need to be that way.

Casdok said...

Good advice.

PTC said...

Having worked in the news biz, it's so true. "If it bleeds, it leads." It's all about RATINGS people!! Sweeps is approaching too...ugh!

S'onnie said...

Its time like this that I am thankful for where I live, not that we are immune to this swine flu as we already know some Auckland students who were in Mexico have contracted it, but thankful that our news readers do not cause the fear that seems to occur in the states when anything like this happens.

Our health organisation has taken all the steps they can by isolating all the students and those they have had contact with since arriving back in the country.

Like you, my big thing is actually getting the normal flu. Having gotten very sick 3 years ago (was hospitalised with pneumonia) I really don't want to get it again. I have had the flu shot and take all the precautions I can

therapydoc said...

I'm with you all the way on this. So much panic, and really not necessary. They always get this way over flu.

jumpinginpuddles said...

hmmmm it seems we have all survived many recent pandemics or near ones, why would this be any different.

health coaching said...

Take Good Care everyone. Keep us updated with the flu news

IntelligentLayPerson said...

Some easy things to do to help reduce your risk of infection are keep your hands away from your mouth, nose and eyes.

The advice about sneezing into tissues is okay, but I always imagine people holding a dirty tissue then pushing the grocery cart and touching items.

Since this is a virus and not bacteria, the hand gels are NOT going to help you. Baby wipes are great because they are gentle to the skin, and have a mild soap on them. I keep a travel pack in my purse for shopping cart handles, and a pack in the car.

During an outbreak we also cut back on dining out. The food is probably okay but your plates, glasses and utensils are touched by servers who go from customer to customer.

After doing the above the number of times a year we have been sick has been dramatically reduced.

IntelligentLayPerson said...

I offered the advice in my previous post because I wanted to help those who may be feeling extremely anxious about the situation because they have fears that are real and valid, but we can still protect ourselves as much as we can and hope for the best.

STAG said...

To put it into perspective,....

Last winter, Canada suffered more than FOUR THOUSAND deaths from ordinary everyday flu. The US has ten times the population, and suffered a mortality rate of .01%, a rate that kills rather more than gangs, guns, and foreign wars combined. If you are still counting, ordinary regular flue accounts for 35 thousand deaths in the US every year. Not nearly as many as faulty brake lines on automobiles but enough that we should take some notice, hmmm? Twelve times as many as died in the World Trade Centre during 9-11. Every year.


(figures from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Influenza)



This latest flue should be taken seriously. However, hundreds of people have already had it, and reported that their syptoms were actually less than usual, many did not know they had anything other than a bad cold. In a few months, we will have a vaccine against it.

The worst flue epidemic in history had a virulence of about 2.5%. I think the fool who passed me on the highway on a double solid line up a hill yesterday was taking more risk than even that!

And to think some still think that the flue vaccine is evil and have something to do with kids developing autism. Give me a break!

No, I'm not making this stuff up! http://www.boxxet.com/Jenny_McCarthy/news:vaccine-deniers-a-strange-nexus-of-education-and-superstition/

Awake In Rochester said...

I think that it's good to listen to the CDC & WHO, but I like to listen to outside sources too. In the past the government has hidden information and I'm sure they will now.

We have 11 suspected cases in my area now. Our local gov. is telling us the we need to meet ALL of 3 criteria for it to be consider the flu. 1) Recently traveled to Mexico, Calf, Tx, or NYC. 2) An ACUTE respiratory illness 3) A fervor ...
Are you being told the same thing? So what if you got the Swine Flu from a friend who was in Mexico last week? Or what if your respiratory illness isn't "acute". The gov. is saying that they don't want to "overburden the health care system", but I think that they also want to hide the real extent of this outbreak. I'm trying to stay on top of things especially because I'm a CNA who works in hospitals, and nursing homes. In my area to many people aren't taking this outbreak seriously enough. They think that it's like any other flu, but it doesn't look that way.

Marj aka Thriver said...

This is why I no longer watch the evening news or read the regular daily newspaper. If I see something I'm interested in on my MSN home page, I'll look into it on the Internet.

Thanks for being a voice of reason.

dawn said...

My city just had it's 1st confirmed case today. It's really (REALLY) close to home, but I refuse to panic. I do realize it's a serious issue, but I think the media is playing it up a little bit.

Barbara(aka Layla) said...

Thanks, Deb, as always this is great. I linked here today :)

traci said...

Thank you for being a voice of reason. I have been cautioning my family about getting caught up in the hoopla. I just keep telling them what I've always told them..."Moderation in all things." That goes for sugar, playing, working and news watching!

Health Psych said...

A voice of reason among all the scaremongering! Thank goodness.

ellesu said...

Amen to all you said (or wrote)! I do worry that many of us are getting to the point where we won't believe much of what *experts* say anymore. What's that old sayin -- fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

CrackerLilo said...

When horrible news like this happens, my wife likes to remind me (and herself) that for every sensationalized headline, there are thousands and thousands of people doing just fine that never make the news. She points out that the bad things are what make the news because they stand out. This helps a tiny bit, though sometimes I have to turn it back on her! :-)

We are treating this like any other flu until we have reason to think otherwise. Vitamin C, zinc, hand gels, Lysol, that kind of thing.

I remember also that the news media is really a collection of profit-driven companies, not a public service, and act accordingly.

But your blog, and this entry, *is* a public service. Thank you very much.

CrackerLilo said...

IntelligentLayPerson, thank you for the advice on wipes versus hand gels! I didn't think of the flu being a virus rather than bacteria *facepalms self*. Also, food servers usually make a low wage and quite literally can't afford to stay home sick unless they are *really* bad off. So they'll work contagious. You (and Dr. Deb) make an excellent point there.

Charlene said...

@STAG: Exactly. Common flu kills far more people. In fact, there are dozens of things that kill far more people than the current flu making the rounds.

Acai Berry said...

fear such as the flu scare sells papers, exercises the emergency prepardness measures, and keeps people on edge.