Romanticizing mental suffering in the media space can be a dangerous play, Source: Unsplash

Mental Health Disinformation: The Sturm und Drang Movement of Today?

Mental Health Disinformation: The Sturm und Drang Movement of Today?

We need more rigid standards when it comes to publishing content about psychological disorders

Thanks to the fact that the topic of the human psyche is less and less taboo, and more and more a topic of everyday conversation, we can finally freely seek and receive help. But would we seek professional help for something that we have read about too many times as being described as a simple and unimportant problem in the media?

Do we want to misinform and normalize mental disorders and present them as conditions for which no professional help should be sought, or do we want to fill the media space with content that will encourage the audience to be properly informed about something that concerns their long-term wellbeing?

During the COVID pandemic, misinformation related to mental health spread massively online and became a viral topic. This led to a growing concern about the spread of health misinformation and its potential impact on vulnerable individuals.

Attractive therapy alternatives or trivialization?

Once upon a time, the opinion that depression (or any other psychological difficulty) was so shameful and dark that it was better not to mention it was prevalent. The situation today is diametrically opposed - a number of journalists have become self-help experts suggest gardening or bathing in cold water as therapies, (un)consciously trivializing the silent scourge with which an unimaginably large number of people struggle.

Oftentimes, online platforms promote alternative or unproven treatments for mental health conditions, which lack in scientific evidence to support their efficacy or safety. It can lead individuals to avoid evidence-based treatments in favour of potentially harmful or ineffective, but simple-sounding and attractive alternatives. Unsourced and unverified online advice and content about mental health can lead to more issues down the line.

It can feel as if we have gone 250 years back to the time of Sturm und Drang, the German cultural movement that gave birth to Romanticism. Translated as „Storm and Stress“, it focused on the emotional and psychological sufferings of the misunderstood and melancholic and took their suffering as the perfect opportunity for poeticization.

It's true, there are considerable cultural and social differences between then and now. But if one fictional character, Goethe's Werther and his suffering, could inspire a series of suicides (The Werther Effect), could misinterpretation and misinformation about mental health not encourage the creation of subcultures that promote these dangerous conditions today as well? Plus, we now have the Internet as a platform, something that didn't exist in the 18th century.

Proliferation of misleading information

Numerous news articles and opinion pieces today are part of a discourse that tries to destigmatize mental disorders. That, of corse, is praiseworthy. However, even though there are more and more columns that bring comments from psychologists and psychiatrists who really try to objectively and expertly present disorders to the audience, it is difficult to ignore the role of the irresponsible media and social media in the problem of misinterpreting information from scientific articles.

Another problem is a lack of professional oversight, where unlike traditional media outlets, the Internet lacks editorial oversight and quality control. That means that anyone can publish content online, regardless of their qualifications or their expertise in field of mental health. As a result, there may be a proliferation of misleading or even harmful information.

Problems that self-diagnosis and trivialization bring are the underestimation of experts, lack of information and the non-objectivity with which people approach their difficulties.

As a result, we've arrived at a situation where in the media, especially tabloids, a temporary feeling of sadness is defined as depression, stress around exams becomes an anxiety disorder, and a predilection for neatness becomes OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), something that is often even the butt of jokes and sketches.

Taking responsibility

Internet articles on mental health issues often fail to provide adequate resources or guidelines for those who seek help, leaving readers feeling lost, hopeless, and un-supported. Authors should prioritize responsible reporting when choosing mental health as their topics, they should cite credible sources, avoid sensationalism, provide trigger warnings when necessary, and emphasize the crucial importance of professional help.

A great solution could be flagging and removing misinformation, so readers could be provided with access to reliable mental health resources. Perhaps it is crucial, both in life and in the media, to not only start calling things by their name but also to install „road signs“ to reliable help - for the good of sufferers who are close to us and those who are close to someone else.

This article is part of Read Twice – an EU-funded project, coordinated by Euro Advance Association that targets young people and aims to counter disinformation and fake news by enhancing their skills to assess critically information, identify vicious and harmful media content and distinguish between facts and opinions, thus improving their media literacy competences.

The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of its author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Union nor of TheMayor.EU.



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