Friday, 17 April 2009

The Bogeyman Cometh ?

An interesting report entitled In the Face of Fear was released in Britain earlier in the week, (this is mental health week there), by the U.K.'s The Mental Health Foundation.

"A poll for In the Face of Fear reveals a number of reasons why people say they feel more frightened or anxious than they used to, including a loss of solidarity and community, the world becoming a more dangerous place, the threat of terrorism, the risk of crime, a loss of certainty and security, and because of an increase in the availability of information about threats to their safety. "

Some main points: 37% feel more frightened than they used to; almost 80% think that world has become more frightening in the last 10 years. Women and the young, (18-34), are more likely to experience fear and anxiety.

A story in The Economist: An endless series of hobgoblins - Britons are frightened of fear itself
points out, interestingly, that their fear of what OTHERS fear is what helps make them fearful themselves:

"That discrepancy extends to specific terrors: 63% of people think the economic situation is a major cause of fearfulness in others, but only 12% of respondents confessed to feeling “quite” or “very” scared about it personally (see chart)"

Who cares about more people feeling fearful ? Well, it can spill over into other aspects of life. Fears, or fears of other people's fears, may be prolonging the economic downturn. Fears lead to an increase in anxiety disorders and the medical costs, loss of productivity and social ills that they can create. Fears can taint people's view of others.

Of course, in Canada we're not free from fears and possible side effects from the economy to public health to public order: Economic woes take toll on workers' mental health; Mayor urges calm as Winnipeg declares flooding emergency; Lack of sleep linked to depression, other mental illnesses came just from a quick check yesterday.

Whether we have the same level of fear and anxiety can't be said for sure. It certainly doesn't stop organizations from playing on what they hope to be those fears:

Take The Winnipeg Sun. The 'local news' section for the last 72 hours, as taken from their website earlier today:
Don't worry, if there's nothing bad enough in the city to garner a bold, scary headline they'll happily take one from another jurisdiction and run it there !

CKY, the top local tv news program, counts it's only two "beats" as: Consumerwatch, the past month of reports consisting of:
The other beat - healthcare ? city hall ? community news ? the legislature ? Nope. The sister to Consumerwatch is Crimewatch.

Advertisers have been delving deeper into our fear factor. Ed McMahon tells seniors "Now, you don't have to
fear falling in the bathtub anymore". U.S. infomercials on Canadian TV selling get rich or get healthy schemes that "THEY don't want you to know about".Oh, Direct Buy's prices - guess what ? THEY don't want you to know about them, either !

In recent elections the Liberals and Tories have each tossed the fear card down for votes. Remember these ditties ?

The downside to such a report is that it lumps people with potentially serious mental illnesses such as depression, or those with dangerous coping mechanisms for stress, in with 80% of the public. Hopefully, it will not devalue the level and need for services to people who need it most.

The brighter side to the realease of this report is that Britain seems to be having a bit of
fear backlash. Coping with stress and fear is being covered as it rarely is - on the front pages of the media. Everything from top ways to reduce stress to just stop worrying and do something useful. It's called more attention to Slow Down London, (also see Life at a snail's pace), an event coming up later this month.

Hopefully, a majority of that 80%, and perhaps their schools and employers, will work towards seeking out better ways to deal with everyday stress and get on with life. For them, being In the Face of Fear might not be something to worry much about.


The View from Seven said...

Recommended reading: "Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear" by Dan Gardner.

It elaborates further on how and why people are vulnerable to fear, and have so much difficulty putting risk into perspective.

mrchristian said...

Thanks - I will look into that. It's an interesting topic !

mrchristian said...

Good blog btw !

The View from Seven said...

Thank you!