Our Depressogenic Media

Can the media make you sick? It is a real question. Do you read a news headline and get that sinking feeling in your stomach? Or have you learned to avoid those headlines completely? I know one woman who can burst into tears from reading the newspaper. A medical doctor I know feels close to despair on an everyday basis, set off by media headlines --- most of which are dubious or plain false. Other people I know hate George W. Bush, not because of anything real, but because they have been constantly indoctrinated with media falsehoods, day after day after day.

The recent smear campaign against Rush Limbaugh provides an excellent example: Even though the facts were entirely clear, the mainstream media reports still suggested that Rush had insulted the US military. No knowledgeable person believed that, since Rush has his own mass media megaphone to counter the lie. Anyone could find out the truth simply by turning on the radio or reading the web. But the established media still peddled a plain lie. Only the really indoctrinated fell for this particular piece of disinformation. But those are the people who cannot exercise normal skepticism when it comes to the news. They would never just fall for a used car sales pitch or a Nigerian email scam. But they are constantly victimized by the depressogenic media, which are about as objective on political issues as an email scammer. The liberal media harm their own gullible audiences most of all.

"Depressogenic" is one of those overly long medical words, meaning "to cause depression."  We know what causes depression in many individuals --- it is the overly harsh and constantly repeated self-criticism that many of us train ourselves to rehearse in our minds, and which can become automatic and uncontrollable after years of practice, in much the way that an annoying little habit can become uncontrollable  Musicians often develop such little out-of-control habits; Glenn Gould could not stop himself from singing during his piano recitals, as can be heard on his studio recordings. That is even more true for habits like our inner monologue, which we rarely understand to be habits. We tend to take our inner monologue for granted.

For decades, research has shown that excessive self-critical thoughts can lead to depression A little self-criticism is obviously healthy. Out-of-control and unrealistic self-criticism can be pathogenic. People sometimes commit suicide because of depression, and those with a biological predisposition could actually kill themselves statistically more often, because of the atmosphere of gloom that is constantly spread by our established media, which are almost sadistic in the intensity of their anti-American hatred. It is a pathogenic condition, just as one can see pathogenic situations in families and organizations.

It is the high achievers in the world who are often the most self-critical, and therefore the most vulnerable to self-inflicted depression. The habit of compulsive self-criticism allows high achievers to leap hurdle after hurdle in schools and careers. But the psychological cost can be a kind of out-of-control self-loathing, self-doubt, and discounting of one's own achievements. Ultimately nothing is good enough. Some high achievers have a pervasive feeling of being impostors, always having to prove to themselves that they are really as good as everyone else believes them to be.

The media do to our national conversation what depressed people do in their inner monologue. They are compulsively self-critical to the point of national self-hatred. It is not far from the truth to talk about our self-loathing media, except that the media don't loathe themselves: They exempt themselves from criticism. Instead, they hate our country, and teach millions of their psychological victims to do the same. This pattern has now gone way beyond the healthy self-criticism that any nation needs. It has turned into the compulsive anti-Americanism of the American media.

(The Europeans are all too happy to echo our own anti-American media, which makes them feel a lot better about themselves.)

The sources of our media self-hatred are not as important as the solution. Depressed people don't have to dig into the history of their self-critical thoughts. Rather, they just need to gently guide their thoughts into saner and less self-destructive directions. Psychiatrists have long helped depressed people learn to spot their excessively self-critical thoughts, and to "argue" against them in the inner monologue.                     

We have a depressogenic media. Diagnosis is a useful step toward a cure. For better national mental health we need a balanced or even an optimistic media, in exactly the same way individuals thrive with an optimistic or at least a balanced attitude to themselves. News consumers are finally figuring out the media's sadistic "flagellate-America" style. They are now changing in droves to more constructive media voices. That process should accelerate and snowball, with new media emphasizing a more balanced understanding of America's virtues, and more constructive solutions for our problems. The present established media are far too stuck to change. We need a New Media for improved national mental health. The media could start by taking a long course in saner thinking themselves.  

James Lewis blogs at dangeroustimes.wordpress.com
Can the media make you sick? It is a real question. Do you read a news headline and get that sinking feeling in your stomach? Or have you learned to avoid those headlines completely? I know one woman who can burst into tears from reading the newspaper. A medical doctor I know feels close to despair on an everyday basis, set off by media headlines --- most of which are dubious or plain false. Other people I know hate George W. Bush, not because of anything real, but because they have been constantly indoctrinated with media falsehoods, day after day after day.

The recent smear campaign against Rush Limbaugh provides an excellent example: Even though the facts were entirely clear, the mainstream media reports still suggested that Rush had insulted the US military. No knowledgeable person believed that, since Rush has his own mass media megaphone to counter the lie. Anyone could find out the truth simply by turning on the radio or reading the web. But the established media still peddled a plain lie. Only the really indoctrinated fell for this particular piece of disinformation. But those are the people who cannot exercise normal skepticism when it comes to the news. They would never just fall for a used car sales pitch or a Nigerian email scam. But they are constantly victimized by the depressogenic media, which are about as objective on political issues as an email scammer. The liberal media harm their own gullible audiences most of all.

"Depressogenic" is one of those overly long medical words, meaning "to cause depression."  We know what causes depression in many individuals --- it is the overly harsh and constantly repeated self-criticism that many of us train ourselves to rehearse in our minds, and which can become automatic and uncontrollable after years of practice, in much the way that an annoying little habit can become uncontrollable  Musicians often develop such little out-of-control habits; Glenn Gould could not stop himself from singing during his piano recitals, as can be heard on his studio recordings. That is even more true for habits like our inner monologue, which we rarely understand to be habits. We tend to take our inner monologue for granted.

For decades, research has shown that excessive self-critical thoughts can lead to depression A little self-criticism is obviously healthy. Out-of-control and unrealistic self-criticism can be pathogenic. People sometimes commit suicide because of depression, and those with a biological predisposition could actually kill themselves statistically more often, because of the atmosphere of gloom that is constantly spread by our established media, which are almost sadistic in the intensity of their anti-American hatred. It is a pathogenic condition, just as one can see pathogenic situations in families and organizations.

It is the high achievers in the world who are often the most self-critical, and therefore the most vulnerable to self-inflicted depression. The habit of compulsive self-criticism allows high achievers to leap hurdle after hurdle in schools and careers. But the psychological cost can be a kind of out-of-control self-loathing, self-doubt, and discounting of one's own achievements. Ultimately nothing is good enough. Some high achievers have a pervasive feeling of being impostors, always having to prove to themselves that they are really as good as everyone else believes them to be.

The media do to our national conversation what depressed people do in their inner monologue. They are compulsively self-critical to the point of national self-hatred. It is not far from the truth to talk about our self-loathing media, except that the media don't loathe themselves: They exempt themselves from criticism. Instead, they hate our country, and teach millions of their psychological victims to do the same. This pattern has now gone way beyond the healthy self-criticism that any nation needs. It has turned into the compulsive anti-Americanism of the American media.

(The Europeans are all too happy to echo our own anti-American media, which makes them feel a lot better about themselves.)

The sources of our media self-hatred are not as important as the solution. Depressed people don't have to dig into the history of their self-critical thoughts. Rather, they just need to gently guide their thoughts into saner and less self-destructive directions. Psychiatrists have long helped depressed people learn to spot their excessively self-critical thoughts, and to "argue" against them in the inner monologue.                     

We have a depressogenic media. Diagnosis is a useful step toward a cure. For better national mental health we need a balanced or even an optimistic media, in exactly the same way individuals thrive with an optimistic or at least a balanced attitude to themselves. News consumers are finally figuring out the media's sadistic "flagellate-America" style. They are now changing in droves to more constructive media voices. That process should accelerate and snowball, with new media emphasizing a more balanced understanding of America's virtues, and more constructive solutions for our problems. The present established media are far too stuck to change. We need a New Media for improved national mental health. The media could start by taking a long course in saner thinking themselves.  

James Lewis blogs at dangeroustimes.wordpress.com