25 August 2014

No news is good news

'Let's not watch the news, it's too depressing.' My boyfriend picked up the remote control and switched channels before the broadcast began. We were on the last night of a great holiday and I was equally keen not to tarnish it with the doom and gloom of the real world.

The next morning, as we drove home, the radio news revealed how grim the previous day had, in fact, been: rebels had shot down a passenger plane over Ukraine and hostilities had escalated in Gaza.

The following day, I left the BBC 24-hour television news on in the background, while I finished unpacking and settling back in at home. As the day wore on, they began to release the names of the crash victims, along with their photos and life stories. With every fresh piece of information, the knot in my throat tightened and I felt closer to tears. Eventually, I could take no more and turned the television off.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/
Most right-minded people would find such news coverage upsetting, but, for me, it can also exacerbate my OCD compulsions: the more scary and out of control the world seems, the more I need to control my own environment. 

Many a tragedy has sent me into a frenzy of ordering: from the shooting massacres of Dunblane and Ut√łya, to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the London bombings. Although natural disasters may bring a higher death toll, I find myself more affected by instances of man's inhumanity against man.

Apparently, the reason for my distress is that the mind can't distinguish between direct threats and distant ones, hence, it makes no difference that I am not in immediate danger myself.

On this most recent occasion, it was hard to tell whether the reported events made my compulsions worse, as reclaiming my territory after a holiday has the same effect. Switching off the saturation coverage at that point was the right thing to do, though, to minimise the risk.

This same news channel has a viewer feedback show and, that week, some complained about the reporting of the crash, which showed body parts and passengers' personal belongings. The director explained that such footage was necessary to bring out the story's human side and to convey the horror of the incident. The viewers' response was that you didn't need to see charred limbs to appreciate the consequences of a plane crash. I agree; coverage can go too far.

Image courtesy of Gualberto107/
Many who suffer with mental health disorders are, like me, over-sensitive. Add in the fact that I have a very visual imagination, and I'm likely to engage far more than is healthy with any news story. For that reason, I also avoid documentaries about past events such as 9/11, so as not to revive the mental distress I experienced at the time.

While I don't subscribe to one colleague's approach, of never watching the news, there is no harm, or shame, in occasionally switching off from the world outside, whether literally or metaphorically. No news is sometimes good news, at least for your mental health.


Sebastian Aiden Daniels said...

I don't focus too much on the news. I know the gist of what is going on, but when I see the images it takes it to a whole new level. It is sad the things that humans do to each other. They also don't tend to show any positive news. I think switching off can be a great thing for your mental health.

Anonymous said...

Helen, I don't have OCD and I rarely watch the news either - I just can't take it. I think your approach is a good one!

Helen Barbour said...

Sebastien, I think your light touch approach strikes a good balance between keeping up with the news and avoiding getting overwhelmed by it.

Helen Barbour said...

ocdtalk, it is reassuring to know that I'm not the only one!

Anonymous said...

I try not to watch the news much either. I get a lot of health anxieties and things like the latest pandemics are quite triggering. Totally with you on your approach to this.

Helen Barbour said...

Rose, thanks for your comment. It seems quite a few people do the same - even those who don't suffer from anxiety or an anxiety-based disorder. Re the global health scares, there have been so many in the past that have transpired to have far less impact than expected that I just ignore them now!