Saturday, 17 December 2011

Mental health and the media

The topic of the media and its impact on mental health sufferers has been in the forefront of my mind for some time now and I thought it would follow on nicely from my previous post about OCD and hypochondria.

I have always been sensitive to the world around me and, in my own quiet way, extremely observant of the happenings and goings on that occur, even if outwardly I do not react much to them. I know that others in my family are similar to that too and I have no doubt inherited the specific gene that makes me very introspective and thoughtful.

I saw this as a personality trait that I quite enjoyed. I would spend hours alone with my thoughts mulling over ideas and opinions, and pretty much keep myself company. This is not something that I see as a negative, even now, after a few months of torturous and intrusive thoughts.

But... a sufferer of OCD and hypochondria those thoughts that were once so enjoyed have taken on a life of their own that I now find hard, at one point almost impossible, to escape from when I need to find respite in human company and interaction.

The obsessive side of the OCD condition makes the most trivial of things begin to carry significance and if left untreated, or acknowledged, can develop into the biggest of emotional hurdles.

My particular obsession was/is to do with cancer and my compulsions were/are to act to prevent it from happening to myself and those close to me.

Those of you who suffer from OCD know of your own particular obsessions and how truly awful it can be when it is all that you can think of, when you can find no means of escaping those haunting thoughts that torment you and allow you no safe haven in which to hide.

For months, or even years, the U.K. has had mass health campaigns to raise cancer awareness focussing on television, newspaper and radio advertising, posters and billboards, cigarette packets, direct marketing and many other outlets. Many of them are hard hitting and use emotional means to place emphasis on the message including the use of graphic images (particularly on cigarette packets).

Many people have lost somebody close to them or have been affected by the illness directly or indirectly, myself included, and do not wish to have those difficult memories thrust upon them when emotional healing is so difficult to achieve.

I know that I do not and believe that many others, whether OCD sufferers or not, do not wish for it either.

When the advertised facts, and distortions of the facts, are forced upon a person who is particularly sensitive to these things and who has an introspective character, then they can and will become negative, life-changing obsessions.

I have lost almost an entire year of my life in utter, life-destroying terror because of it.

My point is this: Why are media outlets not being monitored with this kind of thing in mind? Surely it should be a consideration just as nudity or profanity is before the watershed?

One slogan used during the campaign which became my tipping point was quite simply this:

Is it just a cough?

By playing upon that doubt and fear of the unknown, knowing full well that 99 per cent of the population are not doctors and unqualified to answer the question, is just irresponsible to the very extreme. Whether you suffer from OCD or not, it is a terrible thing to make people ponder and question, and subsequently worry about.

I know that awareness needs to be raised but it must be done with some sympathy to those who have loved and lost, and to those who do not want to be confronted with despicable, detailed images.

I say all this because as far as OCD is concerned, we are all prone to obsessions of a varying nature and it occurred to me that advertising also targets germ killing products.

I do not suffer with contamination fears of that kind but I know that many of you do and advertising of those kind of products always uses the 'kills 99.99% of germs' - Is the 0.01% germ allowance a marketing ploy to make us worry and use the cleaning product more than we generally would?

Are those OCD sufferers who have obsessions regarding driving having their anxieties increased by road safety campaigns? The U.K. ones say 'look, look and look again' before the advert shows the motorbike hitting the side of the car in slow-motion detail.

I honestly don't know why media watchdogs allow some of these things through but I sincerely hope that the control is tightened as soon as possible so as to not allow another sensitive person or OCD sufferer to have their world utterly blown apart by those thoughts and fears that they should not have to face in the privacy of their own homes.


Tina said...

I had never thought about it, but you're right. Some of the social marketing tools used can go over the top, and there's probably not enough thought put into the fact tht it's non-doctors getting the messages. It's something to consider: is fear the best tactic in such advertising?
Thanks for the insight!

Anonymous said...

A thought-provoking post, and I agree with you about how these issues are presented in the media. I do not have OCD, and watch little television, but when I do I will often change the channel if a commercial comes on that begins to cause me discomfort. So I understand what you are saying.
I doubt, however, that things are going to change much in the near future, so I am thinking that maybe a good question to ask is how to deal with these potential "triggers" of OCD. There's always avoidance (which experts usually say should be avoided :) ) or perhaps these upsetting advertisements could be ready-made tools in Exposure Response Prevention Therapy......Just some thoughts.

Pure O Canuck said...

I TOTALLY agree with you! I find it very frustrating how mis-leading most advertising is. Advertisers pray on people's fears and insecurities. It drives me crazy. Very quickly messages become blown out of proportion. I'm reminded of that game we played as a kid called "telephone" - it's amazing how quickly one message morphed into something totally different. It's especially unfortunate for those of us with OCD. But no one knows what/who to believe anymore.

Karin said...

Yes, here in Ontario there are signs in all the public washrooms telling us how long to wash our hands, and commercials telling us TO wash hands often. But when I do it it's called OCD. :) So it IS annoying. Ditto for all the lysol spray commercials the have ladies spraying pencil containers (don't they know how long it took me to not have to wash my pencils and pens before using, if it wasn't my specific pencil?) I can now snicker at these commercials and say : see, i'm right' to my husband who laughs too. But it took a while for me to get there.

I didn't realize that others with different kinds of ocd also had troubles with the commercials, so thanks for bringing that up.

71º & Sunny said...

Great post! When H1N1 was all the rage a couple of years ago the U.S. Gov't Health Agencies made a big deal about telling people to stay home if they were sick. I was TORMENTED for 6 months thinking that I had it and was responsible for passing it along. Ugh.

OCD Anonymous said...

Tina - It's completely true that the people getting the messages are those who aren't in the know about medical things but unfortunately fear is the thing they seem to play on to help them to sell more products.

ocdtalk - I too turn the channel when advertisements come on but unfortunately the seed of the thought is already planted by that point. I guess that is avoidance but avoidance seems more welcome than the anxiety raised from watching them.

I hadn't looked at it as an exercise in ERP but that might be something I am advised when I finally get my first therapy session underway... I hate waiting lists!

Pure O Canuck - I completely agree that they prey on our insecurities as it is a powerful tool they use to sell their products.

Unfortunately, it isn't only advertising as I think the same hysteria arose from irresponsible news reports/papers covering the POTENTIAL swine flu/bird flu outbreaks a few years back.

Karin - I haven't seen the specific advert you’re referring to but I can imagine how it goes and how it could've affected you. I'm glad that you are better at coping with them now and can laugh about it - Hopefully I will be able to too :)

It was my assumption in the blog post that others may have been affected and you confirming it to be true only makes me want those responsible to take positive action even more - Thank you for sharing.

71º & Sunny - I know how you feel. My compulsions become so elaborate during my worst period trying to prevent bad things happening to those close to me, all because of the overwhelming advertising and imagery that I couldn't escape from.

Thank you all so much for commenting and sharing your thoughts with me - It's incredibly reassuring knowing that others have been through similar experiences and are proving that there are better things after overcoming OCD symptoms! :)