Misinformation, mental health, and the third wave are all issues that need to be addressed
While Covid-19 is not the world's first pandemic, it does occur in an age of technology and information explosion, according to Dr. Debanjan Banerjee. Over the last two years, the globe, particularly India, has seen upheavals in healthcare, education, economy, and everyday life.
We also saw an increase in communications about the Chinese virus, homemade treatments that could prevent and 'heal' Covid, apocalyptic forecasts of millions of people dying, and other conspiracy theories on family groups and social media. The ripple effects of the pandemic's disruption have had a huge influence on every part of human existence, notably on the already bursting invisible catastrophe of mental health, which has been catalysed by such disinformation.
An infodemic has been growing all across the world alongside the pandemic, with the overflow and size similar to the virus itself, due to information overload and a lack of systematic crisis communication. While not everyone has been hit by the virus, the pandemic's uncertainty has resulted in widespread disinformation that has reached every corner of the country.
The obvious cloud of worry and anxiety that accompanied the outbreak of the epidemic transferred into unseen mental health difficulties. Domestic violence, broken family and social connections, increasing dependency on alcohol, substance misuse, and technological addiction, among other things, we're all disturbed and precipitated by the epidemic. The additional layer of deception has further exacerbated the psychological and mental health crises.
Furthermore, the media, particularly the vernacular media, published isolated or inaccurate bits and pieces of scientific breakthroughs in isolation or without context. As a result, widespread scepticism, vaccination hesitancy, and other negative consequences such as panic and anxiety spread across the community. Even in the current Omicron setting, social media has pressed the panic button once more.
According to a widely shared social media article, Omicron is deadlier than all other variations and cannot be diagnosed with RT-PCR assays. On the other side, another narrative suggests that Omicron is extremely mild, similar to a normal cold, which is both deceptive and hazardous, given that less than half of the country's population is completely vaccinated. This is comparable to the twisted and false reporting that caused uncertainty in the previous two years, and it appears that we have returned to square one, having failed to learn from our mistakes.
While health misinformation is not a new occurrence, it is a complicated subject that, if left uncontrolled, may snowball and affect millions of people, resulting in a public health disaster. It's important to talk about the effects of disinformation on mental health, which was already a problem before the epidemic.
Misinformation about mental health may be divided into two categories. The first is misleading news that causes mental health concerns; for example, Covid disinformation has harmed not just mental well-being but has also produced real-time and widespread paranoia and worry throughout the world.
Second, there is disinformation (stigma, myths, and misunderstandings) in the mental health domain, which has resulted in misdiagnosed disorders, which has led to substance misuse and addiction, among other things, directly hurting public health.
While the world's health authorities have prescribed an overview, symptoms, and precautions for the pandemic, the infodemic has lacked equal warning and guidance. The impact of the infodemic on mental health is just as alarming as the pandemic itself, and it demands immediate care. In the same way that wearing masks and maintaining physical distance from the virus is critical, 'digital distancing' and fact-checking are critical in the context of the infodemic. This involves reporting and consuming news responsibly, as well as everything viewed on social media. It's simple to become a victim of disinformation due to information overload, short attention spans, and algorithms based on cognitive biases.
The good news is that there is an antidote, but it will take some work on the part of the readers/consumers. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the disinformation epidemic, the first logical step is to exercise digital distance. Every piece of information should be regarded with a grain of salt, which means paying attention to the obvious, absurd, and egregiously strange headlines.
Practice digital hygiene, which entails knowing some background and pausing, thinking, and asking questions before consuming or sharing content. While it is important to stay informed, it may not be necessary to consume every piece of Covid data available online (especially before sleep).
It's crucial to remember that science is a self-correcting system with no definite black-and-white boundaries. A single innocuous forward into the wrong hands is all it takes to cause panic and catastrophe on social networking networks.
As a result, while information/literature continues to expand two years into the epidemic, no piece of material should upset or throw the reader off-balance. In this sense, it is critical to instil fact-checking as a necessary life skill to protect oneself from all forms of fake news and seek accurate information from reliable sources (ex: WHO, CDC, ICMR, etc.).
The need for fact-checkers cannot be overstated, particularly in the sphere of medical reporting in light of the continuing epidemic. It is not a pandemic of the unvaccinated, but an endemic of the ignorant, as someone so brilliantly put it.