Whilst we need to make sure we take care of our mental wellbeing, the moment we stop becoming shocked or upset is the moment we stop caring.
Staying informed on the news can be exhausting. Anyone who wants to stay protected against disinformation and knowledgeable about societal issues or government activity must regularly check what is happening in the realm of current issues, but the media often reports more negative events than positive as negative reports tend to be more ‘newsworthy’.
It has often been observed that people tend to become desensitised to — in other words, more used to reading about and less upset by — initially shocking or controversial topics as such topics become more regularly reported upon. This phenomenon is also called ‘compassion fatigue’: people become too tired of reading the same thing over and over again to care.
With increased focus on self-care and mental wellbeing, surely this is a good thing?
Perhaps it is, to an extent, but not entirely.
As humans, most of us are only upset about things that truly matter to us. Children are upset when they drop their ice cream because they really wanted that ice cream, and adults are upset by relationship heartbreak because it represents a major falling-out with an important person. It’s why we cry at sad stories or emotional films.
Consumption of the news has to be balanced with a conscious observation of mental wellbeing — particularly in the era of the 24-hour news cycle when the news seems relentless — and the knowledge that we simply cannot change everything that’s bad about the world. That said, we should also make a conscious effort to not become desensitised to societal inequalities or government failings after hearing about it for the nth time, because something being reported on for two months — for example — means that it is still happening two months later or that the same terrible event has taken place once again.
If anything, repeated reports on the same issue — within reason — emphasise that we should care more, because the same issue has not gone away, such as the extensive reporting upon BLM and the need for antiracism discourse.
The moment we become desensitised and stop reacting to a report about misogyny or racism is the moment it no longer shocks or upsets us, and the moment it’s no longer an issue that matters much to us.
It is easier said than done. Many of us could immediately list a few examples of topics we’ve become used to seeing in the news, with little thought given to the background of the issue:
- Women being murdered by men, often men they loved or trusted
- Minority communities bearing the brunt of COVID-19 fines
- Social media abuse
- People in developing countries dying from COVID-19 in numbers that would be absolutely horrifying for the British public if these numbers applied for the U.K.
- Lies and conflicts of interests within the government
- Abuse and threats to journalists, particularly female journalists who receive added misogyny
- Minority communities being hugely disproportionately affected by COVID-19
All of these bullet points are examples of recent or current repeated topics in the news that represent some sort of injustice, and the list is by no means exhaustive.
Of course, we should all evaluate how much time we spend consuming news reports and whether this is having a detrimental effect on our mental health, but we must never forget to also evaluate how we react to particular news reports and whether a report is about an important topic about which we should care.
We can reduce the time we spend on social media or discussing current affairs, or actively increase the time we spend on self-care or consuming positive content, but we should never stop reacting.
Depending on the situation, it may be necessary to apologise for the manner in which we react to discussions about major inequalities, but we should never feel the need to apologise for the simple act of being upset.
The moment we stop mentioning entrenched or societal inequalities is the moment these inequalities fade into the distance and become ignored.
The moment we become completely desensitised and stop being frustrated or upset by injustices reported on by the media is the moment we stop caring. That is the moment at which inequality, ineptitude, and insularity are granted free rein to spread and multiply.
At JAN Trust, we are conscious of the need to maintain our mental wellbeing, and balance this with our work to keep on top of developments in the areas in which we work, such as counterextremism, racism, and gender-based violence. However, we know that we must continue to raise awareness on the issues affecting our marginalised and ethnic minority communities because it is unacceptable to leave our beneficiaries ignored by mainstream society.