Negative news and mental health

Should journalists be extra careful when reporting negative news stories, especially during the pandemic? Read on to find out what Bournemouth Daily Echo reporter, Ben Williets, and I think.

Photo by Visuals on Unsplash

The Guardian recently published an article with the headline: “Covid poses ‘greatest threat to mental health since second world war’” and it got me thinking, could the news be partly to blame for this?

Whilst the news has been crucial in keeping the nation informed during the pandemic and helping isolated individuals feel part of a community, the constant stream of sensational and negative news reports can be damaging to people’s mental health. Especially now everyone is under strict guidelines to stay indoors again, meaning the news is having an even more dominant role in people’s lives.

For me, the relentless negativity in the press surrounding the coronavirus has impacted my mood massively. One minute I will feel calm and hopeful and the next minute, after receiving a news notification on my phone, I will feel deflated and pessimistic. In the last couple of weeks, I have been inundated with news reports telling me how the numbers of COVID-19 deaths are increasing from the new strain, more businesses are closing down, future holidays are being canceled, unemployment and redundancy rates are soaring, and the NHS is under more pressure than ever, with figures 35% higher than the last peak in April.

It makes the light at the end of the tunnel seem impossible.

Even former Love Island contestant and famous influencer, Molly-Mae, shared this feeling in her recent YouTube video. Ten minutes in, Molly receives a notification from BBC informing her that there are more than one thousand daily coronavirus deaths and she sarcastically responds: “Well that’s cheerful, isn’t it? That’s really going to cheer you up on a Wednesday night, thank you BBC for that lovely notification.”

However, after interviewing Bournemouth Daily Echo reporter, Ben Williets, it made me realise that journalists can’t always help what they report.

I asked Ben what he thought about Logan Jones’s statement: a lot of the news we consume today isn’t so much reporting as it is a way of keeping people addicted to the news cycle” and he said:

“I write to keep people informed, not to just get clicks. I don’t think people get into journalism to write about deaths or horrible crashes, but they are things that have to be reported. A lot of the time, police issue appeals for witnesses following big incidents, and publishing these stories can only help the investigations. I think positive news stories can hold a reader just as much as negative news stories, however, there just aren’t as many I believe.”

I then asked him whether he thought too much negative reporting in the media can be harmful to people’s mental health, especially during the pandemic and he exclaimed:

“To an extent, yes. But if negative things are happening that need reporting, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t report it. I think it’s important to remember that journalists aren’t responsible for what happens, they just bring it to the public’s attention.”

Whilst I agree and respect Ben’s comments, I also believe journalists, especially in the current climate, should be wary of how they ‘bring’ this type of information to the public. As research shows 56% of adults in the UK are feeling more stressed and anxious during the pandemic and 63% said they are worried about the future. Therefore, because the news has a powerful influence on impacting people’s mood, journalists should be extra careful when reporting about the coronavirus because it might intensify a person’s already fragile state of mind.

For example:

Headline from Mail Online

Although Mail Online is updating the nation about the numbers of COVID-19 deaths and infections, it is arguable that it is also provoking fear. This is evident with the capitalisation of ‘double’, the trigger word ‘warns’, and the red-coloured graph. Even though it is important to stress the seriousness of the virus and encourage people to follow the rules, it is not professional to use fearful words and images to get this message across.

The news should inform the nation, not scare and overwhelm them.

Another example was seen yesterday in The Sun when they used the bold, capital alliteration “breaking bad” and sensational word “buckles” to explain how hospitals in the UK are becoming overwhelmed.

Headline from The Sun

Headlines like these are tailored to get clicks and for readers already struggling, this kind of news can be very toxic. Especially because negative content spreads faster across social media meaning those who want to ignore it for their own health will find it harder.

In turn, perhaps in normal circumstances, this type of reportage might be acceptable. But, with the British public now in their third national lockdown and mental health problems on the rise, maybe editors should re-examine how many negative stories they publish in their respective papers and what time they are publishing them (with reference to Molly-Mae’s above reaction). Or, at least change the way they phrase headlines so it is less about attracting attention and more about raising the nation’s morale during this scary period.

What do you think?

Let me know on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, and don’t forget to check out my other blog post that also draws upon this topic.

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Rachel Carroll ✨

Well hello there and welcome to my blog that explores topical and broad issues around #journalism. I hope it stimulates you 😆 Twitter & Insta: @RCarrollJourno