October 17, 2019

It's a good day - yes, it is! ”Since dinner last night a miracle has happened in the world, almost 130,000 people escaped extreme poverty and it’s been happening every day for more than twenty years”. Malnutrition and extreme poverty are at historic lows. The risk of dying by war or violence is the lowest in human history . Ethiopia in a single day in July set a world record, planting 350m sapling trees and they are on target to plant 4.7 billion by the end of this month.

Twenty-four-hour news however suggests it’s anything other than a good day, week, month, year, decade or even century. Negative news has become all consuming, draining energy and enthusiasm from many of us and pushing positive, compelling, progressive possibilities and solution towards the ‘Endangered list’.

As part of World Mental Health Day last Thursday an article ‘How can journalists and news audiences take better care of themselves?’was published. It discusses the emotional wellbeing of readers and reporters and led me to constructive and solutions journalism which, when combined, present fuller, more accurate solution focused articles. Previously confined to niche publications, websites and books such as ‘You are what you read these approaches are gaining traction in larger mainstream organisations. Why? Because they’ve been found to make people less cynical, less divided, more engaged, empowered and informed.

As regular consumers of negative news its effect on how we feel and thereby the choices and actions we make are intensified by our brain’s inbuilt negative bias. Usefully this negative bias prompted people to make mitigating decisions that resulted in them surviving the last ice age. Today however, it means we tend to focus on the negative more than the positive on the basis that we assume negative things are ultimately destined to happen.

Consuming a daily deluge of conflict and negative headlines is addictive and for many of us helps maintain our devastating ignorance and false beliefs about the significant improvements in global patterns and macro trends. Gapminder set out to expose such common misconception through inventive, engaging material and presentations including ‘The best stats you’ve ever seen’. According to Ipsos’ latest ‘Perils of Perception’ study we in Britain think 50% of our population will be over 65 in 2050 double the figure projected by the World Bank. We think we’re the 12th largest economy by GDP in the world, when in fact we’re the 5th. And, we also think one in five (18%) of working age people are unemployed when it’s actually 4%.

So, is our negative bias a problem, or as with the last ice age a literal life saver? I would argue it’s a problem and so do others. According to Oxfam the scale of pessimism and misunderstanding could threaten the work to pull “the second billion” people out of extreme poverty. Our World Data provide compelling examples of how our incorrect perceptions mean we run the risk of prioritising the wrong things and making ineffectual change. Whilst a large body of literature links an optimistic outlook to positive health outcomes.

So, what should we do? According to Future Crunch ‘If we want to change the story of the human race in the 21st century, we have to change the stories we tell ourselves’ and read more news stories from the right places. Or, as Ola Rosling advocates, maybe we should adopt a ‘factfulness’ mindset. We could sign up to the Slow Journalism Company and its publication ‘Delayed Gratification’ which is intent on moving us away from ‘… only hearing about how stories start not how they end’. Possibly we could take two minutes to listen to ‘Publishing the Positive’.

Whatever we do, we must ensure positive, compelling, progressive possibilities and solution are not placed on the ‘endangered list’. As Jackson said at the launch of the Solutions Journalism movement "This is not a call to be naïve and ignore the negative. Rather, it asks from us to not ignore the positive".

Jackson could just as easily have been referring to social care. So, in the wake of World Mental Health Day let all of us commit to acknowledging the positives associated with social care. Let’s start to replenish our energy and enthusiasm, check if our beliefs are true and informed. Let’s start prioritising the right things and making effective changes.

Younifi is one of the positives within the world of social care and health. Don’t ignore it, instead widen your lens and see how it fundamentally changes the relationship between people, councils and providers, placing the person at the centre, empowered, informed and positive – basic requirements for good mental health and being well for everyone.

Tony Pilkington MD Younifi