How Does Fear in the Media Impact Mental Health?

By Priyanka Chiguluri, Staff Writer

The media constantly spreads fear about COVID-19 by making it the main focus of daily reports and headlines. Not only that, but this fear damages mental health, and exists disproportionately among those struggling with unemployment. 

Every news platform focuses on the high number of infected people and deaths caused by the coronavirus. National, international and local news stations alike all have a web page dedicated to stories about the coronavirus that instill fear in their audiences.

International news platforms the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Cable News Network (CNN), and Fox have pages dedicated to COVID-19. On these pages, facts about the virus that are deemed to be important are stated. The first fact listed on CNN’s “What You Need to Know Page” instantly spreads fear to its readers by headlining the rising number of Americans that have died.  

An article from the Washington Post focuses on the mental health pandemic that is spreading alongside with the coronavirus and its long lasting impacts. According to a poll from the Washington Post, “Nearly half the people in the United States feel the coronavirus crisis is harming their mental health, according to a survey published Thursday [March 31st] that demonstrates how the COVID-19 pandemic has escalated into a nationwide psychological trauma.” The number of people affected by the coronavirus escalates because people’s mental health is affected by the daily headlines about the virus’s death toll. 

Along with headlines on news pages, politicians also capitalize on fear by using the coronavirus in their campaigns and stating medical facts that are not supported by research. Both presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, use fear of the coronavirus to reach more people with their campaigns. “The United States and the media need to put parties aside. For lack of a better phrase, people are dying.” Freshmen Hallie Graham said.

Social media platforms like SnapChat and Instagram are the biggest sources of COVID-19 fear in younger generations because they share COVID-19 news headlines and put posts about COVID-19 on recommended pages. With so many young people using social media, it is hard to separate fact from opinion, and more people are fearful of the COVID-19 because of false information.

“For me personally, I’ve been using social media more during quarantine than I have before,” freshmen Ava Cassidy said, “I think that a lot of misinformation is being spread and that people are posting about their opinions as facts.” 

As the rate of unemployment increases in America, more people post on Instagram about the number of unemployed Americans. The posts are insensitive to families who currently struggle with unemployment, and spread rumors about what is going on with unemployment due to COVID-19. The truth is, teens who have parents with job stability do not understand what it is like to be part of the 20.5 million unemployed people, and they do not realize that they impact people negatively by reposting headlines about unemployment. The constant reminder of unemployment in America intensifies fear in families whose jobs are threatened and families who struggle with unemployment. 

Through news headlines, influencers, and social media, fear about the impact of COVID-19 is spread to Americans. If people continue to share insensitive headlines, facts, and false information, then fear will have a lasting impact on the younger and middle generations.

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