TW Viewpoint | Doomscrolling

April 22, 2022 | Stuart Wachowicz

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"Doomscrolling" is a term now being applied to describe the obsessive behaviour of spending massive amounts of time scrolling through negative news.

The term was developed to label a phenomenon first noted in 2018, which saw people spending long periods of time scrolling through pages of negative news using hand-held devices or desktop computers. This newly defined obsession is one that is raising alarm bells among physicians and psychologists.

Health professionals and researchers have realized the need to examine the effects if doomscrolling. The University of Florida recently publishing a research paper, The Dark at the End of the Tunnel: Doomscrolling on Social Media Feeds. The paper described a technique to measure "doomscrolling", thus enabling investigation on the motivation of people addicted to the practice, and to be able to study the psychological impact of binging on negative news.

The study made clear that this is much more than a person just wanting to be informed about a topic, but rather occurs when an individual is obsessed with trying to make sense of a perceived crisis. This excessive focus on that which is negative can damage mental health.

Psychotherapist Tess Brigham explains:

… those who struggle with anxiety or anxiety-related disorders such as panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and social anxiety disorder are especially prone to doom scroll because "anxiety is about control or the lack of control"

…"The more anxious we feel, the more we try to control the situations and people around us. Being informed seems like a good way to control what's happening around us, but it actually just creates more anxiety and fear."

She also pointed out the feeling of, "If I know what's happening, I can be better prepared when things get bad," is also the reason for doomscrolling.

Daily doomscrolling isn't a wise idea if you're striving for good mental health.

In fact, it's bad for your mental health because there is no real benefit to doom scroll. It only makes you more anxious and paranoid about the world around you. So, put your phone down and just go to sleep! (What Is Doomscrolling And How Does It Affect Your Mental Well-being?)

Angela Watercutter, writing for WIRED, quotes a Harvard expert looking into this new phenomenon.

Mesfin Bekalu, a research scientist …at Harvard's T. H. Chan School of Public Health, notes that while a lot of the news is bad, "as humans we have a 'natural' tendency to pay more attention to negative news."… "Since the 1970s, we know of the 'mean world syndrome'—the belief that the world is a more dangerous place to live in than it actually is—as a result of long-term exposure to violence-related content on television," Bekalu says. "So, doomscrolling can lead to the same long-term effects on mental health unless we mount interventions that address users' behaviors and guide the design of social media platforms in ways that improve mental health and well-being." (Doomscrolling Is Slowly Eroding Your Mental Health)

Watercutter goes onto explain that in our current Western society, people feel there are many problems to which there are no solutions. She quotes Nicole Ellison from the University of Michigan who observed that there is a "lot of demand on cognitive processing to make sense of this. There is no overarching narrative that helps." (ibid.)

The last comment is revealing. In years past there was an overarching trust in one's nation or Empire's ability to address issues. And if that failed, there was ultimately the belief that we are a function of the will of a higher power, a God, to whom anyone, rich or poor could turn for support, encouragement and understanding. But a loss of the patriotism and the religious beliefs that used to a part of our social context has made people feel more and more unsupported. With these two pillars of social order missing in much of the West today, with individuals each trying to understand the world on their own, depending on obsessive behaviours and escapism through drugs, little wonder we have the mental health issues we do.

Watch Doomscrolling on YouTube at Tomorrow's World Viewpoint