Health professionals are no strangers to the repercussions of news and information on health, especially information on mental health and emotional health, especially when these come from sources with a great capacity to influence, whether mass media, or personalities, which by their fame, visibility or social notoriety, manage to reach millions of people, becoming “viral” opinions and content that deal with very sensitive issues.
I think we all remember news that has generated a great deal of controversy and confusion among citizens. Without going into details, the important thing for me, and the reason that led me to write this article, is that information and opinions related to health, and in particular emotional health, when they have their origin in the media or relevant people, are not harmless, are able, to a greater or lesser extent, to influence and model perception on these issues, and could generate serious and important consequences.
Why is information about mental and emotional health in the media relevant?
As a psychologist and psycho-oncologist, a high percentage of my working time is directed towards pedagogical and didactic aspects: explaining, helping to understand, avoiding unsuitable thoughts, identifying erroneous beliefs, learning to question incorrect or clearly harmful models, ideas or roles, etc. This same blog that you are reading, is a means to carry out that work of information and prevention, beyond the space and time we have in the consultation sessions at the Center. (This is also one of the objectives of the courses we teach in our Emotional Health Classroom).
There are many difficulties and emotional disorders in which, due to the very characteristics of the disorder, the people who suffer them are especially vulnerable and fragile to external influences: information, opinion, models and stereotypes… I am talking about topics such as: eating disorders, adaptation to the disease (as in the case of cancer), depression, anxiety…, and so on.
Nowadays, communication spaces and channels proliferate: internet, newspapers, magazines, tv, podcast… The multiplication of information does not mean having better information, the need for time and criteria to make a good selection among so much offer, implies in many cases to be less or less informed.
Disinformation is a problem in general, but when we talk about Psychology and Emotional Health, when we talk about information about mental health, lack of information or incorrect information, they can represent a risk of increasing the difficulties of people who suffer emotional disorders or disorders, worsen the symptomatology and prolong or increase suffering.
Psychologists, we consider it relevant that the media, and even more so the public media, when dealing with issues of Psychology and Emotional Health, have responsibility and understand the scope and impact of the messages they disseminate.
The consequences of disclosing misleading, inaccurate or erroneous information, or doing so without a responsible use of terminology and the appropriate informational context, can result in people with emotional difficulties:
Unpleasant emotions: fear, uncertainty, helplessness, frustration, anger, anguish, misunderstanding, vulnerability or confusion.
Feeding irrational beliefs, obsessions and thoughts related to symptoms, sensations and behaviours.
Generate ideas such as “I am not in control”, “I have made a mistake”, “I am guilty of what has happened to me”.
Encourage behaviors or behaviors driven by our emotions, what in psychology we call CIE, which are generated, for example, before an irrational fear of information that is perceived as threatening.
To promote unadaptive mechanisms, such as anticipatory hypotheses and catastrophist hypotheses, tremendous or unrealistic interpretations, in the face of ambiguous and not very precise messages, but loaded with information of risks and dangers.
These and other consequences, which originate news and inadequate information in the media, are often seen in psychology consultations, and sometimes it is difficult to dismantle these beliefs, since people cling to them, as if they were data or a reliable reference.
Where is the responsibility for the dissemination of Psychology in the media?
It is not easy to point out in which direction or in which field the greatest responsibility lies for such a complex phenomenon, in which so many “actors” participate.
I believe that each one of us, if we participate in disseminating sensitive information, from the position we occupy in communication, must reflect on the scientific rigour of that information, but also on the way in which we communicate it: the tone, the terminology, the context, and so on. The media should also reflect, and do so to the extent of their enormous power and capacity for influence, valuing their programming grid, forms of communication, sensitivity and understanding towards people with emotional problems.
I can think of some questions related to Psychology in the Media:
Is it taken into account that among the public there are people with emotional instability? Is there an analysis of how what they will see, hear or read will affect them?
Is what is disclosed contrasted with professionals and scientifically proven?
Has the opinion been consulted with the most reliable sources: official colleges, scientific societies and institutions…?
An interesting example of a television programme on mental health
I would like to mention an example of good practice, a television programme which, from my point of view, treats information on mental health with a very good approach: the programme “Radio Gaga” by Movistar Plus, presented by Quique Peinado and Manuel Burque.
Its first chapter dealt with mental health disorders through testimonies from people, giving name and surname to these diseases, telling real stories of real people with their emotions, concerns, concerns and expectations. An excellent tone of respect, empathy and professionalism was maintained at all times.
Health professionals did not participate in this program in front of the camera, but I understand that they have participated in the pre-production work, in view of the rigour of the information offered.
The content of the program focused on patients and their families, to raise awareness, allow the viewer to know what it feels like to have a mental illness, showing their achievements, their abilities, their coexistence at the family level, social relations, employment and personal projects.
One of the testimonies they addressed was especially revealing, because it commented that because of using drugs at a very early age, it led to a very incapacitating illness such as Paranoid Schizophrenia. This mental health information, for example, can help many young people with substance abuse prevention campaigns.
The end user is the key
The spectator, reader or user is the protagonist, is the fundamental piece in this complex gear related to information on mental health and emotional health.
The fate of a communication product will depend on the audience and the users. It is true that the criterion with which one chooses what to see or enjoy is very “contaminated” by many cultural, social, psychological factors… but, even so, I believe that it is in our hands to demand products and media of greater quality, and to achieve it.