Depressed? Turn off TV news!

It amazes me how people can act like smart consumers in some situations, and like helpless pawns in others. Consider the way most of us handle the news—especially television news. I’m not talking about political bias here. I’m talking about emotional bias. I don’t care which news station you watch—Fox, CNN, whatever. Emotionally speaking, they all know that it’s good business to emphasize the negative and downplay the positive. It’s how they grab your attention and make a profit. I’m not knocking the profit motive, and that isn’t the issue anyway.

The issue is WHY it’s so profitable for news networks to only talk about the negative: Because people eat it up. If people tuned it out in mass numbers, the networks would change. But we don’t, so they won’t.

It helps to understand how the mind works and what causes emotions. The computer age spawned a great saying: ‘garbage in, garbage out,’ and that gets to the root of it. If you constantly put negative thoughts and facts into your mind, with no balance or perspective, then you’re going to feel negative emotions such as depression, anger and frustration. Negative thoughts in; depressing and sour emotions out.

Celebrated psychotherapist Albert Ellis developed a technique known as ‘Rational Emotive Therapy.’ It’s a natural, non-medical approach to helping treat and prevent depression. The theory assumes that most people do not get upset by unfortunate or negative events, but more by their own interpretation of those events. For example, it’s not accurate to say: ‘I’m upset about the high cost of gas.’ It is accurate to say: ‘I’m upset because I assume that high gas prices are an irredeemable catastrophe with no possibility of ever getting better.’ Your assumptions and interpretations make you upset, not the event itself. The same applies to being upset about people. ‘Susie really makes me mad,’ is really shorthand for ‘Susie engages in behavior that I view as bad or obnoxious, and therefore I’m upset.’

When watching the news, you have to realize that OTHER PEOPLE have made the choices about what you’re going to see, and why. The goal of most news—particularly television news—is to grab the viewers’ attention by being as negative (they call it ‘sensational’) as possible. Much is made of the political bias thought to exist on the various news networks, but little or nothing is made of the emotional bias. Many of the stories have little or nothing to do with politics. A lot of them have to do with horrible murders or incredibly irrational behavior on the part of a tiny minority of the population with apparently no judgment whatsoever. I find no benefit in learning about the antics, arrests and subsequent trials of such people, even if they’re celebrities. It only brings me down and does nothing constructive for me. Yet this is what the networks dish out most of the time.

Become a savvy consumer when watching the news. You would never go into a restaurant and pay no attention to what’s being served. You would never go into a clothing store and totally disregard the price, quality or color of what you’re buying. So why would you allow the producers, writers and owners of TV news outlets to feed your brain with anything they please? Just as we take responsibility for what we put into our mouths and on our bodies, we have to take equal responsibility for what we put into our minds—because there WILL be emotional output, one way or another. If lots of television news is your input, your output will never be positive.

For years I have met with people who suffer from various degrees of depression. One question I sometimes ask is, ‘How much have you been watching TV news lately?’ The answer is almost always quite a lot. When the news gets turned off and replaced with carefully selected written sources, severe depression is sometimes curbed, and mild depression often disappears. Cynicism and negativity (garbage) in, depression and emotional malaise (garbage) out. It’s that simple.

I recognize that a lot of the news IS bad. Facts are facts—good or bad—and while knowing them is no guarantee of coming up with the right answers, it’s the only hope for finding solutions to the problems we face. At the same time, however, the presence of negative facts is no reason to ignore the positive ones, which is what the news networks do. And, in spite of what they put on the screen, the existence of bad news is no reason to assume that all news is bad, all the time, and will forever remain bad—and boy [insert scary computer graphic here], you had better stay tuned so you can sit through the next deodorant commercial!

Domestic violence. Miscreants who should never have become parents hurting their children. Insipid celebrity drug and alcohol problems. Romances gone bad that turn into kidnap or murder. Do we really need to know about ALL of this garbage—day in and day out?

My advice? SHUT IT OFF! Drastically reduce your time staring at the cleverly scripted news programs. Know what you need to know, and put it into rational perspective. No news network is ever going to do that for you.