The Effects of Media on Mental Health and Behavior Television, newspapers, and radio broadcast the news 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, making it literally impossible to miss the bad news. Violence presented in news can have long-lasting effects on our mental health and behavior. Negativity in media is hard to ignore, as our brains are hardwired to focus on shocking news. However, negativity on television and other media can provoke negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. In 2001, during terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City, people nationwide spent a lot of time in front of their TV screens. Later studies showed that watching these images provoked fear and decreased viewers’ confidence in the state’s security. In addition, studies showed that the degree of people’s fear was directly correlated with the amount of time spent watching the news. Similarly, media can contribute to decreased empathy and violence desensitization. The National Television Violence Study, a three-year assessment of over 3,000 programs a year, showed that 60 percent of television programs across 26 channels contained some form of physical aggression. Media can put a lot of pressure on us and our moods. We can sometimes prioritize it over more important things such as our mental and physical health. Media persuasion has many implications – it affects our interpretation of information and our development. Moreover, media persuasion can make us judgmental towards others, which further can create stereotypes and prejudices and cause stigma in various ways. Exposure to graphic violence and negativity in media can provoke an over-sensitization, making us pessimistic and depressed. This pessimism can lead us to see only negative in the media, our life, and the world in general. Yet, exposure to violence in media can also lead to emotional and cognitive desensitization, where we show a reduced responsiveness to violence. Media Psychology A large body of research today focuses on the relationship between media and our behavior and mental health. In recent decades, psychologists have studied this phenomenon from a theoretical perspective. Media psychology brings social theories to the media and focuses on the interaction between individuals, groups, and technology. The 1950s breakthrough of television as a leading form of entertainment amidst both children and adults raised concerns among psychologists about the impact of television on children’s reading skills and their behavior. During the 1960s, psychologists have begun studying the impact of violent television content on children’s behavior. The Effects of Media on Our Behavior In 1961, American psychologist Albert Bandura conducted a series of controversial experiments on observational learning, widely known as “Bobo doll” experiments. The main aim of these experiments was to study patterns of behavior by Bandura’s Social Learning Theory. Namely, according to Bandura’s theory, people learn from one another through three main mechanisms: observation, imitation, and modeling Aggression In his experiments, Bandura investigated whether a social behavior such as aggression can be learned by observation, imitation, and modeling – simply watching the behavior of another person. In fact, these experiments were a groundbreaking study on aggression that showed that children can learn through the observation and imitation of adult behavior. Although criticized on ethical grounds at the time, the results of Bandura’s experiment still have important implications for the effects of media violence on children. Moreover, studies on the impact of media led to the formation of American Psychological Association (APA) Society for Media Psychology and Technology – the community of psychologists, educators, researchers, and other mental health professionals actively involved with all forms of media technologies. The society supports the media-related studies and informs the public on the impact of media on human behavior. More on Albert Bandura’s experiments on observational learning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zerCK0lRjp8 Isolation and Loneliness With the expansion of modern technologies in recent decades, media continue to consume even a greater amount of people’s lives. According to Dr. Sarah Y. Vinson, board certified children and adolescent psychiatrist, both adults and young people lack face-to-face interaction needed to learn and master their social skills. She believes that growing up with modern technologies can cause difficulties in interacting with others for an increasing number of children. Consequently, this can lead to unsociable behavior. With 24/7 access to the phones, the internet, and television, media appears as an answer to all questions children and youth may have. Dr. Vinson believes that caregivers need to limit their children’s screen-time, especially if it is holding them back from face-to-face interactions. Studies show that media and social media, specifically, substitute real-life social interaction and promote feelings of loneliness and social isolation. That is, the more time people spend on social media, the more isolated and lonelier these individuals perceive themselves to be. In addition, one study suggests that there is a certain cap on the number of friends each of us can handle. Furthermore, it takes real-life social interaction, not virtual, to maintain our friendships. A recent survey that sampled 55,000 people 16-24 years found that young people experience feelings of extreme loneliness and isolation, more often than any other age group. Two in five young persons say they feel lonely often or very often, compared to only 27 percent of survey participants aged 75 or older. Additionally, the survey results showed that people who report feeling lonely and isolated have more online-only Facebook friends than those who don’t feel lonely. Another study of 20,000 people 18-24 years old also showed that young people experience feelings of extreme isolation and loneliness, with 49 percent of participants reporting that they feel lonely sometimes or always while 43 percent says their relationships are not meaningful. Loneliness is intertwined with many mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Anxiety and Depression According to one study published in Computers and Human Behavior, people who excessively use social platforms are more likely to develop high levels of anxiety and depression. These people demonstrate general anxiety symptoms such as troubles sleeping and concentrating, feelings of restlessness, and constant worry. In the same way, another survey of 1,700 social media users found the connection between the use of social media platforms and the risk of anxiety and depression. The researchers see the reasons for this in an inaccurate picture of other people’s lives, feeling that the time spent on social media is a waste, as well as in cyber-bullying. In addition, heavy social media users usually feel a decrease in subjective well-being over time. They report becoming envious and depressed. Witnessing other people’s “perfect” lives on Instagram or Facebook makes people jealous and unhappy with their own life circumstances, which ultimately leads to anxiety, depression, and declining confidence. Self-esteem We often forget that the media is not life. Research indicates that television and social media have a negative impact on our values and expectations. They may also negatively affect our self-esteem. According to one survey of 1,500 people, social media platforms make half of the participants feel inadequate. Also, 60 percent of social media users report that these platforms negatively impacts their self-esteem. The social pressure to show a perfect life and impress others may lead to a constant pretending that our lives are much more exciting than they really are. Furthermore, the gap between whom we pretend to be in a virtual world and who we really are can trigger feelings of depression, isolation, and inadequacy. Likewise, the burden of presenting ourselves better than we are is making it harder to accept the less-perfect version of ourselves and seriously distress our confidence. Sleep Many people use their phones, tablets or laptops right before they go to sleep, not seeing any issues with that. However, research has found that spending nights with the artificial lighting just inches from our face can inhibit the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that helps us fall asleep. In addition, consumed by anxiety, envy or worry from what we see on social media can keep our brain alert, preventing us from falling asleep. Experts suggest that we should leave our devices at least 40 minutes to an hour before going to bed, to allow our bodies and mind to relax before falling asleep. Media and Stigma Stigma occurs when a person is viewed as different and as such denied full social acceptance. Stigma is often linked to mental illness. And media are the main source of information when it comes to mental illness. Studies show that media representations of people with mental illness are commonly negative and contribute to the stigmatization of mental illness. Reinforcement of misconceptions and prejudices toward mental illness through the media spreads the mental health stigma causing shame, secrecy, and self-blame in affected individuals, discouraging them from seeking treatment. On the other hand, the media can play a significant role in overcoming stereotypes and reducing stigmatization. Media can educate, provide adequate information, and replace existing prejudices with coverage of positive examples and outcomes. The involvement of the media is vital for success in long anti-stigma campaigns that include educational and human rights-based approaches. Ethical Implications of Media Use Media today isn’t just about television, radio, printed media or video games. Mobile technologies, the web, and social media have been increasingly used in health care, education, and advertising. Research shows that almost 95 percent of people look online first when seeking professional mental health help. So, having an online presence can boost private practice for many psychologists and other health professionals. On that account, social media advertising by health care professionals has scaled almost 63 percent over the last decades. An increasing number of psychologists, doctors, and other professionals uses the web and social media as means to advertise and receive feedback. Many of them have a blog, Twitter, Instagram, or a Facebook page. They also use applications for scheduling appointments. Correspondingly, clients benefit from accessible health care and disease self-management tools. However, limited privacy, low communication barriers, and security issues in social media raise certain concerns from an ethical perspective. For example, advertising a private practice with a professional Facebook page can complicate the therapist-client relationship when a client wants to “friend” the therapist. For ethical reasons, the therapist must say no, of course. It is vital, therefore, that psychologists, physicians, and other healthcare providers ensure their borders between professional practice and personal life stay intact. Screen Time and Video Gaming Video gaming is an area that has been getting a lot of attention lately. The health professionals believe that video games have a great impact on children, adolescents, young adults, and even the 70-plus population. More than 90 percent of children and 97 percent of youth ages 12-17 regularly play video games. However, unlike the viewer of a television show, the gamer is an active participant. Both game violence and the screen-time raise concerns among parents and psychologists. Scientific evidence suggests that exposure to violent video games leads to increased aggressive behavior and decreased empathy. In addition, playing violent video games is an underlying cause for raising non-social behavior in children and youth. Not All Screen Time is the Same Studies show that games can engage students and inspire learning. It is the nature of the screen time and not the length that matters, researchers say. According to Mitchel Resnick, a director of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, parents and teachers should try to make the most of creative time rather than minimizing screen time. In other words, instead of worrying about the device use limit, parents should consider whether hi-tech activities help develop a child’s imagination, creative thinking, and problem-solving skills. Game-based learning emerges as a tool for enthusiasm and engagement learning across both classrooms and homes. These new learning programs can be accessed from home where the family can be included in the learning process. Experts believe that digital technologies can help children master their digital literacy and spark their interest in science and other STEM disciplines (technology, engineering, and math). In addition, digital media can motivate young learners to pursue STEM careers in the future. Namely, recent reports show a shortage of professionals in the fields of technology disciplines, engineering, and computer science today. Technology is recognized as a successful tool to address these challenges. That is, digital media can provide children with interactive opportunities to learn about STEM disciplines and spark their interest in these disciplines. What’s more, research shows that games allow students to work together function as a team. Also, playing games can help students better deal with failure and success and improve their reaction times and decision-making. Media has made significant contributions to our society in the past decades, there is no doubt in that. At the same time, media content may significantly affect our attitudes, beliefs, feelings, actions, and seriously influence our mental well-being. Media psychology continues to explore and apply media potential for use in areas such as education, science, healthcare, business, entertainment, and much more. Furthermore, media psychologists continue to study the implications of media persuasion and its influence on our mood, thoughts, emotions, and behavior. Understanding the interactive relationship between media and society is key to better knowledge of how to use and develop technologies to connect, communicate, learn, discover new things, and improve our lives.
Mental Health Awareness Some statistics and important notes Nearly half of mental health illness occurs before the age of 14. However, mental health problems in children and teenagers often go unnoticed and untreated. Around 44 million adults in the U.S. (one in five adults or 18.5 percent) experience mental health problems each year. At the same time, mental illnesses affect 46 percent of teenagers and 13 percent of children in a given year. Also, 4 percent of adult Americans suffer from mental illness each year that significantly interferes with their normal life activities. However, there is a growing recognition of the importance of helping both young people and adults build mental resilience in order to cope with daily challenges. Promoting and protecting mental health benefits individuals and society equally. Mental health is the foundation of our overall well-being. It is key to our relationships, self-esteem, resilience, and ability to contribute to our community and society. Moreover, mental health is the basis for healthy emotions and thinking, positive communication, ability to learn and adapt. What is Mental Illness? It is important to understand that mental illness is a health condition like any other disease. It involves changes in feelings, thinking, and behavior (or any combination of these three). Mental illness causes huge distress to a person suffering and his/her family and it causes problems functioning in relationships, at work, school, and all other aspects of life. Again, mental illness is a medical problem – just like diabetes, heart disease or cancer. Although not curable, many forms of mental health illnesses are treatable, allowing the individuals to continue with their daily lives. Early identification and action are likely to make treatment more efficient. Research suggests that the complex causes of mental illnesses include genetics, brain structure and chemistry, life experiences, and other medical conditions. Two most common mental health conditions include anxiety disorders and mood disorders. According to the World Health Organization, by 2020, depression will become the second leading cause of disability globally. Similarly, more than 18 percent of adults experience some type of anxiety disorder each year. These commonly include generalized anxiety disorder (which I have!), specific phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and panic disorder. Mental Health Stigma Nevertheless, only half of the people who suffer from mental illness receive treatment. One of the major reasons people in general, and men, in particular, avoid seeking professional help is the stigma attached to mental health. Mental illness stigma often causes those suffering to withdraw from their social circles. It also prevents them from pursuing education, getting a job, and actively participating in their community. I can personally attest to that. Why is Mental Health Awareness Important? Self-acceptance starts with gratitude for what we have. However, self-love also starts with getting help when we need it. A lot of people with mental health problems remain unnoticed and untreated because they are ashamed to talk openly about their illness and seek help. The best ways to tackle mental health stigma include open communication about mental illness, readiness to spread awareness, and willingness to offer and accept support. Challenging the Stigma Removing the stigma from mental illness is essential in encouraging people to talk about their mental health issues and seek help. Mental health disorders should not remain concealed. The best ways to change public attitudes toward mental illness include interaction with people with mental illness, open communication, education, and in my opinion - social marketing campaigns. However, individuals have an important role in providing support and reducing stigma and discrimination. We can challenge mental health stigma through learning and sharing facts about mental illness and mental health, sharing our personal experiences, offering support and discouraging any form of labeling and discrimination. Promote Physical Activity Research shows that regular physical exercise can have a very positive effect on our mental health. Physical activity positively impacts anxiety and depression, boosts resilience, enhances self-esteem, and improves mood. Studies suggest that a moderate amount of daily exercise can make a difference in our mental health. For example, running promotes a series of changes in the brain, such as neural growth and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calmness and happiness. Furthermore, running releases endorphins, increasing their level in our blood. You may have heard of these powerful neurochemicals as natural pain relievers or ‘hormones of happiness’. They trigger the growth of new cells and connections in our brain, very similar to what antidepressant medicaments therapy does. To put it simply, they make us feel happy and composed. Encourage Mindfulness Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present in the existing moment and completely aware of it, without trying to interpret, judge or overreact to it. Mindfulness practice means training our brain to be fully attending to what is happening to us and around us at the present moment. A growing body of research suggests the various benefits of mindfulness to our mental health. Mindfulness leads to relaxation and boosts our stress resilience. Moreover, the mindful practice can improve our concentration and memory, spark gratitude, and enhance the intuition. Also, mindfulness can boost our self-awareness, self-control and empathy, and help us use more conscious control over our behavior. In addition, research showed that mindful meditation can literally rewire our brain – mindfulness reduces the activity in the amygdala. This cluster of neurons in the brain’s limbic system plays a key role in processing emotions and it is a starting point for our stress response. Reducing the amygdala’s activity, mindfulness reduces the background level of stress and anxiety. Spread Mental Health Awareness The main reason why stigma against mental illness is still powerful lies in lack of education and media stereotypes. Advocating within your circles of influence can help protect the rights of people with mental illness. It can help make sure that the people who experience mental health problems have the same rights and opportunities like other members of the community. Furthermore, showing respect and acceptance to those who suffer from mental illness removes a huge barrier to successfully coping with their health issues. Showing people that you see them as persons and not their illness can significantly change their own attitude towards mental health and prevent self-stigma.
How do you help someone who has mental illness? Does your friend or family member suffer from mental illness, and you're looking for a way to help them? Sometimes we need to find a way to do that. But how do we? And another important question is -- how do we do it without smothering them? One of the first things that comes to my mind when this topic was brought up to me was that often people with mental illness either: Don't always want help. Want help, but are stubborn about accepting it - and especially seeking it. Don't accept that they have a mental illness in the first place. Obviously these things can cause major issues for someone who is trying to help the person who is suffering! So what can do we to help? First of all, become informed. If you haven't already, you should research and learn about the condition(s) that the person has in detail. Get as much professional information as you can. Read some personal experiences, such as blog and forum posts from people who suffer with the same one(s), etc. You can even discuss the subject anonymously with people who are also suffering (e.g. on Twitter; I suggest Mental Health Advocates, but go with your "gut") and ask questions. It will mean a lot to the person that you've done that. But even when you have, please don't think that you know everything or that you can actually relate to the person -- because without actually experiencing it yourself, it's really impossible to. We truly appreciate you trying to understand; but that is all you can do since you can't actually get inside of our heads, and the illness can also vary from person to person. Mental health in general is a lot more complicated than it may seem, even after you've researched it. In fact, even professionals and science don't fully understand it; but don't let this prevent you from learning as much as possible. In addition to taking a step towards helping your family member or friend out, you'll always be helping to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness by learning facts about it, which you can also tell others about. Go, you! Don't add to the stigma. Reduce it. As I just mentioned reducing the stigma, and also stated that some people are stubborn about seeking helping -- I wanted to point out that some of that is actually due to mental health stigma. Unfortunately the way that many people perceive us for having a mental health problem and receiving treatment for it -- is absolutely unfair and uncalled for. People are very ignorant on this subject and it needs to change. Receiving treatment for a mental health problem should be no different than seeking treatment for a physical health problem, period.So it would be nice if you would understand and believe that. Then you can assure the one you care about that you believe it, and that they should too. Let them know you accept them. Make sure that the person knows they are still the same person they were before you knew they had a mental illness, before they are! And let them know that you accept them for who they are. This is very important. We need to be treated as equals. Ask what helps instead of assuming. Assuming what will help a person can lead to smothering them. This is why you should ask what helps them, but only while they are open to discuss the topic. Don't mention it every day; a lot of us don't want to be constantly reminded more than we have to be that we have a mental illness -- although that is quite unavoidable at times as it is due to the symptoms we experience, and medications we may be taking. Also, be honest with them if their requests are doable or not. Don't put too much strain on yourself. But let the person know you're there if they need anything reasonable. Consider counseling for yourself. This mostly applies if you're supporting a family member. There's definitely a burden that comes with helping out somebody who has a chronic illness, no matter what type. It can add stress, depression, anxiety and other negative emotions to your life. You deserve an aware for being there for the person, regardless of how much they show appreciation for your support; and most likely, they do - or will - appreciate it. Talking to someone about how you feel and letting your frustrations out with someone other than the suffering person should greatly improve your ability to help the person. In addition, you may learn more techniques than I mention here. I highly recommend it, if you have can manage to afford it. Offer to go to support groups to families and friends. Showing that you're serious about helping them, and willing to spend the time and effort to go with them to get help should have a big impact. But don't pressure them to do it; some of us may be uncomfortable doing so, which you should expect -- so don't be surprised if you are rejected. If they do agree to go, that's absolutely fantastic! But based on my experience, I personally feel that is more of a display of how much you care. What if the person doesn't want help? Sometimes they do, but won't admit it. This is a difficult situation. I've personally been guilty of this. I push people away when I need help the most. People say "I'm fine", when really they aren't at all. We can be stubborn. Sometimes we think that we don't deserve help, or anything at all. We can feel absolutely hopeless. I don't mean to worry you, but at some point, you may even need to look out for self-harm and suicidal thought symptoms. This is a whole different topic, which I should probably follow up on. One of the best things to do is probably to say something such as "I'm not sure that I believe that you're fine -- so if you want to talk to me about it, I'm here to listen. Please let me know before things get out of hand; I care a lot about you (and I love you)." Maybe they really don't... I'm not sure that I've encountered this, to be honest. Maybe someone feels that they want to be independent and tackle it by themselves. Or maybe they are not ready to receive help yet. If this is the case, then maybe discussing why they feel the need to do that is so important to them would be a good start. Then mention that you know they're going through such a difficult time, and you would really appreciate if they would let you help at least a little bit wherever possible - however (in)significant it may be. Perhaps over time, if they accept any help from you, they'll start to see that it's easier and gradually accept more of it. However, if they really insist on being left alone for a while, then let them be alone and bring it up another time. How about if the person doesn't believe he/she has a mental illness? Discuss it. Don't argue! Ask why they believe they don't have a mental health problem. You can use your knowledge that you've acquired to have some idea of what's going on, but don't attempt to sound like a professional and assure them that they do -- and definitely don't attempt to (re)diagnose them yourself. If after your hopefully calm discussion, you both are questioning it, then perhaps you should try to convince them to get a second or even third professional opinion -- because hey, although it's rare, maybe they actually don't have a mental illness after all. They may be willing to do that to prove you "wrong." But it may be confirmed, and then you are doing them a favor by having them take another step in the right direction. If this upsets them afterwards, don't take it personally. It will take time, regardless of what you do. When a person is newly diagnosed, this is the most difficult time of the acceptance process. They need time to learn about the mental illness for themselves too! You can politely suggest that they also research it for their own benefit; and maybe when they see all of the things that are in common with what they experience, they'll come to their own conclusion they do indeed have it and need to accept it. For me, finding out as much as I could was extremely beneficial -- but I did this by my own will. Again, don't be pushy. More you can do to help Be patient. Everything is going to take time. For the mentally ill: acceptance takes time, as does opening up, getting and receiving the proper treatment that helps at an acceptable level. For both of you: dealing with this change, and being able to be there for one another is a monumental challenge. But you can do it. Work together. You need cooperation. Don't try to do everything alone, or feel like you need to be a hero. Don't try to "fix" the person. Let there be a natural flow of communication and friendship. People with mental illness often feel lonely, even if they're not alone; and we often need reassurance that someone's there, that things will be okay -- but don't overdo it, especially if the person is venting to you. Listen to the person. If the person is venting to you, listen to them. Don't give advice. Don't tell them they're wrong or correct them. Just listen. At the end, maybe ask them if they want a hug (if that's appropriate.) Don't make the person feel guilty, or ashamed. Never make the person feel bad or selfish for their feelings or actions caused by their mental illness. This includes their suicidal thoughts. The same goes with making them feel ashamed. We should never have to feel this way. It's not our fault. A few other things: Show them hope and encouragement Don't talk down to us as if we are less intelligent Talk to us in a comfortable environment Try not to be defensive, if you can help it (within reason) Don't tell us to "pray" and that will somehow fix us Don't say that changing or attitude or outlook on life will change everything Don't say everyone feels that way sometimes Talk a casual pace, not too fast Don't be hostile Never make jokes about the condition