For real? How the news can turn us all into recluses.

Is this for real?! My god. I feel like it’s time to lock ourselves inside our houses, barricade our doors, and take cover in our “panic rooms” or “fallout shelters”. Apparently the “land of the free” now means “run around freely and act like assholes.” But hey, let’s open up the borders and let more people come run around freely acting like assholes while the rest of us, who aren’t behaving like hooligans, just trying to mind our own business, take care of ourselves and our loved ones, and lead an honest life, are now not even safe in our own home because the packages we ordered online (due to our fears of becoming part of some “mall shooting” or crime spree) may have us opening the door to one of those assholes who is trying to make some sort of statement because we thought he was our friendly mail carrier and it was one of our packages being delivered.

This is one of the many reasons why I don’t like watching the news anymore and why I was reluctant to install even a news app on my devices. Yes, it can be helpful in some situations (severe weather reports, local snipers in action) but everyday it seems that there is just one more reason for us to not want to walk out that front door. Yes, we all do (ok, most of us do) walk out that door, but I can guarantee that there are a whole lot of people out there who do so with some sort of fear or tiny reluctance because of an event that has happened a little too close to their own home.

How does this relate to mental health? Well, people who suffer from depression, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and many other mental illnesses are often told to try and stay away from watching the news regularly and reading the newspaper because the media tends to highlight the bad. (Yes, I know how obvious that statement is.) Many studies show that the stories on the news only represent a small portion of the daily events, but are featured because it’s shocking and it’s what grabs the attention of the viewers. You can go check the crime statistics. It may seem that crime is on the rise for your area because of all of the stories featured, but in this era, the era of the internet and social media, it just means that this type of information is much more accessible and quickly obtained. The news programming and newspapers are only allotted a certain amount of time or space, so many of the stories you may not have heard about 10 or even 5 years ago are now flooding our minds because of quick, easy access and the need to be the “best” news source.  Now, I’m NOT saying that crime rates are lower OR higher than before. I’m just saying that the AMOUNT of crime and tragedy that we are exposed to is much higher because of its easy, quick availability. That gives us ALL, not just those with mental health issues, a perception that is skewed because of what is chosen to be shown to us. (Yes, we do have a part in what we actually see, but I will talk about that later)

If producers/editors were given the choice between the story of (these are just random examples) a triple homicide in the closest metro area to you or the story of a local teen who had found an elderly resident’s stolen purse which had all of their medications (that if not taken could be life threatening), all of their credit cards, ID cards, and just cashed monthly income check, with all the contents still there upon its return to the owner, the story to be featured would be the triple homicide. If given the choice because of time constraints or available print space, the homicide would win over a story highlighting that there really are good people out there and good things do happen. Maybe, if there was a tiny space in the paper, it might get a line or two or if there was extra time in the news segment, they may mention it very briefly, at the very end of the broadcast, but you would not see that until you had already read through pages of negative things or watched 30-60 minutes of danger, tragedy, and sadness.

Common sense would have me believe that if we are continually exposed to all this negativity, it surely would eventually begin to affect us as individuals. For those of us with already altered perceptions of the world because of our own illnesses, well, this just feeds more fuel to the fire. This is why many doctors/therapists will suggest tuning OUT of the news on a regular basis to help improve our mental health. There is nothing wrong with wanting to, or trying to stay up to date on current events, the difference is how you choose to do so to prevent going into extremist mode and wanting to barricade yourself in your own home because you fear opening your own front door.

Yes, there are a lot of terrible things going on all over the world. As individuals, we can not change that. What we CAN do is try to be the best version of ourselves that we can be. Do what WE think is the right thing. Respect ourselves and those around us. Follow the law. Growing up, one of the phrases I heard often was “Lead by example.” No, this will not create world peace and may not stop 95% of what is going on around us, but we can try to make our immediate surroundings feel a bit more safe and less mentally skewed and react to things more rationally. If tuning out for a bit can help your own mental health and well being, then unplug. Just because the news outlets make something a new “sensation,” doesn’t mean that it has to be OUR own sensation.  We are the ones who choose what we see, what we read, and how much of it.  That leaves the impact of the news on our mental health in our own hands. WE are the ones who ultimately get to choose how that affects us and our daily life.

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