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Increased social media consumption during pandemic can negatively impact mental health – WBFO

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With the continuation of quarantine and isolation, it’s not uncommon to rely more on social media for news and entertainment. Dr. Roger McIntyre, professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of Toronto, recently conducted a study of Chinese healthcare workers that links increased social media consumption during COVID-19 to a worsened mental health state. He shared further details with WBFO’s Nick Lippa.

Nick Lippa: Dr. McIntyre, you recently conducted a study regarding Chinese healthcare workers, showing that the more time people spend on social media the greater the degree of their overall distress and impairment. What did you find?

RM: We have completed a study in China involving over 3000 individuals who are healthcare providers who are frontline workers. And it’s important to clarify, there’s two types of healthcare providers. There’s healthcare providers and then there’s frontline workers, people who work in the healthcare system and are on the frontline. And I think we can agree that the latter group health care providers that are frontline are particularly at risk during this time. And we’re talking normally about risk via the transmission of virus because they’re coming in contact with people who have been infected with Coronavirus. But they are also at risk for a variety of other concerns and we’d like to take a history lessons approach. We learned, for example, during the SARS epidemic, of which Toronto was the city most effective like deaths due to SARS outside of Asia, we had 44 people in Toronto lose their lives because of SARS. And research conducted on the healthcare workers in the frontline at that time indicated that there was a significant increase in depression, anxiety related difficulties, post traumatic stress as well as alcohol related problems. We all are reacting with tremendous concern with the information we were hearing from Europe with respect to the mortality of this virus. And we were especially saddened to hear that frontline workers in some countries like Italy reports us and nurses committing suicide. So I think it really speaks to the stress. 

So we said okay, we got to go to China. This is where the virus according to the World Health Organization, began infecting people. And we surveyed over 3000 healthcare frontline workers. What did we find? We found that these workers had staggering levels of depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, difficulties related to distress as a consequence of really being in that frontline. And when we dug a little deeper into the data to find out, where there’s certain aspects about these individuals that perhaps increased or decreased their vulnerability, as a group, the overall anxiety, depression and stress level was increased so significantly. What we found when we looked at these later analyses, to determine moderating factors, interestingly we found that consumption of social media seemed to be a factor that increased the overall reporting rates of stress, anxiety and depression. And to be specific, those respondents to our surveys who indicated that they had been on social media for more than three hours a day are two to three times more likely to report depression, anxiety and stress. And I should perhaps contextualize that, prior to COVID-19 and during much of the past decade, there’s a replicated body of scientific literature indicating that social media consumption from people who are using it many hours a day, many days a week are more likely to report negative health outcomes. That is they’re more likely to report decreased well being. They’re more likely to have pessimistic views of themselves in the future. They’re more likely to report themselves as lonely– just as a couple of examples. So there is something about excessive consumption of social media that does not appear to be helpful. It appears to be harmful for you. And we conjecture that is in part because of the contagion, not just of the virus app, but the fear contagion, which only amplifies many social media platforms. 

What is the difference between high social media consumption before the pandemic, just in general, and now during the pandemic. A lot of people are not working, they’re just at home. Social media consumption at a high level seems to be a bigger risk. 

RM: It’s an excellent point. We all know this is an unprecedented event that’s affected the entire planet.There’s no country spared here. (It’s) unprecedented not only in terms of the impact on trade and the economy and capitalism and etc. But the notion of quarantine, social distancing, socially isolating ourselves. We’ve never seen anything like this. Even going back to the days of the Spanish flu, this level of quarantine globally was not in place at that time. So we as human beings are wired to be social creatures. We’re not wired to be disconnected. And so by the very nature of being socially isolated, physically distanced and in many cases quarantine would stay at home borders and so on, by definition, one would expect an increase in the access of many of these types of platforms. So that’s a reality of this unprecedented time. 

The way to approach this however is, like many things in life– and that is that human beings need interpersonal contacts that are substantial, that are meaningful and that are secure. And even at a time like this, where we’re being asked to stay at home and distance ourselves, reaching out, particularly reaching out to people who are anonymous people who are not known to us, people who we don’t have attachments to or have secure relationships with, that does not appear to be particularly therapeutic for a lot of people. And to kind of put a very brief sort of evolutionary context to this– we are in fact, of all this as a species to be interpersonally connected. We are not species that have evolved to be connected to strangers. To be connected to uncertainty within a group environment. In fact, that actually goes against evolution. Evolution has rewarded genetics that promoted attachments to family and to close circles. So there’s a larger question about social media and how in many ways it’s not aligned with how we’ve evolved. But importantly, during times like this during a quarantine, we’re not suggesting people don’t reach out and make connections. What we’re saying is people should reach out and make meaningful connections. So some people have said to me, ‘Well, what if it’s not available?’ Many people don’t have family or don’t have somebody who would identify as an intimate support or an instrumental support. Our attachments can be to other types of entities. For example, many people are attached to their spirituality or to their religion or to their community groups, things of that nature. And so at a time like this, when we’re all feeling fearful, the need has never been greater to have secure and safe attachments. And voluminous consumption of social media does not appear to meet that need. 

And that’s really interesting. What I hear from a lot of people is exactly wanting that sense of community. I talk to people who utilize groups like AA, as well as other similar services. What’s a healthy way to manage looking for a community in regards to your social media habits?

RM: I think that there are some very simple and fundamental questions to reflect on whenever an individual is reaching out to another individual or to a group or to an organization or what have you. First of all, does that interaction increase or does it decrease my level of anxiety? It sounds like a very basic question, but that’s an important question. Does engaging with this individual or group, does it actually enhance my well being? My quality of life, my view of myself in my world? Are there aspects about this interaction that’s reducing or increasing my stress? Are there aspects about this interaction that are increasing or decreasing my sense of fear and safety? Now as I go through that, that seems like a fairly basic set of questions. But quite frankly, if you and I were to survey say prior to COVID-19, or even certainly during COVID, people who spent excessive amounts of time hours and again, social media, and they were to fill out surveys regarding those questions on to my point earlier, many people would say, ‘You know, I feel worse after spending time on social media. I feel more depressed. I feel more lonely. My quality of life goes down after social media.’ 

And then of course, the intuitive question is, well, if it hurts, why do you do it? That’s a rather simple and linear way of considering it because the drive for human attachment is so powerful. And often people will reach out and will engage in unhealthy attachments, rather than having no attachment at all. And that’s us as a species. There’s plenty of examples of how that takes place in day-to-day life for people to continue their relationships, interpersonal or otherwise, that are not in their best interest, because their perception of the alternative is worse. Well, it turns out, in fact, their perception is just their perception. And the reality is that replacing or improving or replacing those types of relationships is always a preferred way to go. But again, that’s where human nature kicks in. And things are much easier said than done. 

One of the things I like to bring up is news consumption. One of the big usages of social media is to look for news. What would be your recommendations to somebody who says, ‘Okay, maybe I’m consuming a little bit too much here. What should I do to help myself be mentally prepared to prepare myself a little bit more healthfully now?’

RM: The advice is portion control. Portion control not just with what we eat in terms of food. Portion control with respect to alcohol. Portion control in respect with what we consume through media and social media. And again, that’s the guiding principle for most things in life is portion control. But to add a bit more to it, and to use food as the metaphor, there’s two guiding principles around food consumption– portion control and to make sure that the food choices that you have are healthy. We want both portion control with respect to media and social media, but also to make sure it’s healthy. Now look, a couple things we’ve learned from previous situations of quarantine and epidemics. What we’ve learned is, when people are informed, it significantly reduces their anxiety. It significantly reduces their anger, their frustration and their fear. So we highly encourage people to reach out to respectable media and be informed. It’s good for you to be informed. That’s sort of the fruits and vegetables of your diet so to speak, keeping that metaphor going. 

A separate group of investigators in China have reported with the COVID pandemic, that too much general news media consumption can also be toxic after a while. And I’m not surprised to hear that and that also extends into social media. Again, we recognize that for many people, social media is enjoyable. It’s fun. It’s quality of life enhancing and in that all the good things. But for a lot of people, that’s not the case. And if we look across the age bands, it’s a reasonable assumption that the percentage of people over the age of 75 who are using social media is lower than the people under the age of 40. And what’s interesting is people under the age of 40, who are probably using more social media, people of higher age groups, they also tell us over and over and over again that the more they use it the more lonely they feel. So I think like a lot of things in life, it has to be about portion control. And making sure that the consumption of what you’re doing, the choice of the types of social media and general media are appropriate are healthy. But we really strongly encourage people to be informed. And that’s to just not disconnect. The message is portion control.

Bringing this back to your recent study, it was done with frontline health care workers. But this is applicable to everyone, right? 

BM: Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s applicable to everybody. And what’s so relevant about studying frontline workers in the healthcare system during this terrible crisis is that we all can agree that that is a very stressful situation for these people. They’re working very long hours, uncomfortable working environments, hyper vigilant, a lot of stress and trauma, seeing a lot of deaths, a fear of infection and transmission to others and at the same time being quarantined. Healthcare workers are often quarantined themselves. So I don’t think anyone is unaware that the frontline staff are really under a lot of stress right now. And that group especially is important for us to study, because people want them to be able to engage in activities and endeavors that are able to not just reduce their anxiety and stress but build their resiliency. And what we’re finding is that overconsumption of social media is not doing well for their resiliency, probably reducing it, and it is enhancing their overall distress, anxiety and depression. And this is a significant problem.

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Britney Spears calls recent documentaries about her ‘hypocritical’

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Pop singer Britney Spears spoke out on Tuesday about recent documentaries about her life and career, calling them “hypocritical” because they rehash her personal problems while criticizing the media for reporting them the first time.

Walt Disney Co’s FX network and The New York Times released “Framing Britney Spears” in February. The documentary examined the singer’s meteoric rise to fame as a teenager, the ensuing media scrutiny and her widely publicized breakdown.And this month, the BBC released “The Battle for Britney: Fans, Cash and a Conservatorship” in Britain. It will debut in the United States and Canada starting May 11 via the BBC Select streaming service.

In an Instagram post, Spears did not name either documentary but said “so many documentaries about me this year with other people’s takes on my life.”

“These documentaries are so hypocritical … they criticize the media and then do the same thing,” she added.

In March, Spears said she cried for two weeks after watching part of “Framing Britney Spears”.

The BBC said in a statement on Tuesday that its documentary “explores the complexities surrounding conservatorship with care and sensitivity.”

“It does not take sides and features a wide range of contributors,” the statement added.

A New York Times spokesperson declined to comment.

Spears, who shot to fame in 1998 with the hit “Baby One More Time,” is in a court battle seeking to replace her father as her conservator. He was appointed to the role in 2008 after she was hospitalized for psychiatric treatment.

Her fans have shown their support on social media under the hashtags #We’reSorryBritney and #FreeBritney. Spears is scheduled to speak to a Los Angeles court in June.

In her Instagram post, which included a video of herself dancing, Spears said that “although I’ve had some pretty tough times in my life … I’ve had waaaayyyy more amazing times in my life and unfortunately my friends … I think the world is more interested in the negative.”

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by David Gregorio)

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Grammy organizers change rules after allegations of corruption

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The organizers of music’s Grammy Awards on Friday announced an end to the so-called “secret” committees that have led to allegations that the highest honors in the industry are open to rigging.

The Recording Academy said that nominations for the next Grammy Awards in January 2022 will be selected by all of its more than 11,000 voting members, instead of by committees of 15-30 industry experts whose names were not revealed.

The Academy was slammed last year when Canadian artist The Weeknd got zero Grammy nominations, even though his critically acclaimed album “After Hours” was one of the biggest sellers of 2020.

The Weeknd, in a Twitter post last November, said “The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency.”

The Recording Academy said in a statement on Friday that the changes were significant and were made “to ensure that the Grammy Awards rules and guidelines are transparent and equitable.”

Allegations that the Grammy nominations process is tainted were made in a legal complaint filed in early 2019 by the former chief executive of the Recording Academy, Deborah Dugan.

At the time, the Academy dismissed as “categorically false, misleading and wrong” Dugan’s claims that its members pushed artists they have relationships with. Dugan was later fired.

American pop star Halsey, also shut out of the 2021 Grammys, last year called the nominations process “elusive” and said she was “hoping for more transparency or reform.”

Former One Direction singer Zayn Malik called in March for an end to “secret committees.”

“I’m keeping the pressure on & fighting for transparency & inclusion. We need to make sure we are honoring and celebrating ‘creative excellence’ of ALL,” Malik tweeted hours ahead of the 2021 Grammy Awards ceremony.

The Recording Academy on Friday also said it was adding two new Grammy categories – for best global music performance, and best Latin urban music album – bringing to 86 the total number of Grammy Awards each year.

 

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by David Gregorio)

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Movie theaters face uncertain future

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By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Maryo Mogannam snuck into the Empire theater in San Francisco with his older cousins to watch “Animal House” when he was 14. He watched most of the James Bond movies at the historic art house and took his wife there on some of their first dates.

The cinema, which had been showing movies since the silent film era, served notice in February that it was permanently closing because of the impact of COVID-19. The marquee is now blank, and cardboard and paper cover the box office window.

“It’s kind of like losing a friend,” said Mogannam, now 57, who owns a retail shipping outlet near the theater, which had been renamed the CineArts at the Empire.

As vaccinated Americans emerge from their homes, they also may find their neighborhood theater is not there to greet them.

An eight-cinema chain in New England said it will not reopen. The same fate hit a Houston art house beloved by director Richard Linklater and, in a shock to Hollywood, more than 300 screens run by Los Angeles-based Pacific Theatres. That includes the Cinerama Dome, a landmark that hosted several red-carpet movie premieres.

Following a year of closures, theaters face deferred rent bills plus media companies’ focus on drawing customers to streaming services. Up to one-fourth of the roughly 40,000 screens in the United States could disappear in the next few years, Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter said.

The National Association of Theatre Owners rejects that estimate, spokesman Patrick Corcoran said, noting that similar dire warnings accompanying the advent of television and the switch to digital screens never came to pass.

Hollywood filmmakers want cinemas to thrive.

“It’s the only place where the art dominates,” said “Avatar” director James Cameron. “When you watch something on streaming, the other people in the room with you are welcome to interject, to pause to go to the bathroom, to text.”

At theaters, “we literally make a pact with ourselves to go and spend two to three hours in a focused enjoyment of the art.”

“For 300 people to laugh and cry at the same time, strangers, not just your family in your house, that’s a very powerful thing,” said Chloe Zhao, Oscar-nominated director of best picture nominee “Nomadland.”

At the Academy Awards on Sunday, the movie industry will “make a case for why cinema matters,” producer Stacey Sher said. While acknowledging the hardship of the pandemic, “we also have to fight for cinema and our love of it and the way it has gotten us through things,” she said.

About 58% of theaters have reopened in the United States and Canada, most restricted to 50% capacity or less. The biggest operators – AMC, Cinemark and Cineworld – make up roughly half the overall market.

Industry leaders project optimism, forecasting a big rebound after restrictions ease and studios unleash new blockbusters.

Coming attractions include a new Bond adventure, the ninth “Fast & Furious” film, a “Top Gun” sequel and several Marvel superhero movies.

“Avatar 2,” Cameron’s follow-up to the highest-grossing film of all time, is set to debut in December 2022. Some box office analysts predict 2022 ticket sales will hit a record.

Supporters point to late March release “Godzilla vs. Kong,” which brought in roughly $48.5 million at U.S. and Canadian box offices over its first five days, even though audiences could stream it on HBO Max.

“That was a big win for the entire industry,” said Rich Daughtridge, president and chief executive of Warehouse Cinemas in Frederick, Maryland.

But near- and long-term challenges loom, particularly for smaller cinemas.

Theaters are negotiating with landlords over back rent. A federal aid program was delayed due to technical problems.

Plus, media companies are bringing movies to homes sooner. Executives say streaming is their priority, pouring billions into programming made to watch in living rooms as they compete with Netflix Inc.

Most at risk are theaters with one or two screens, Wedbush Securities’ Pachter said. He said his best guess is between 5,000 and 10,000 screens could go permanently dark in coming years.

“I think we’ll see a gradual decline in the number of screens,” Pachter said, “just like we’ve seen a gradual decline in the number of mom-and-pop grocery stores and bookstores.”

 

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Additional reporting by Rollo Ross in Los Angeles, Alicia Powell in New York and Nathan Frandino in San Francisco; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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