Doomscrolling yourself nuts?

Last night, I lay in bed with Mary Trump’s book Too Much and Never Enough on my chest, as I held my phone and scrolled through Google News. I said to my wife, "I never thought I’d enjoy reading news so much," pointing out that I scan news apps and surf Facebook daily as part of my job as a blog writer. She chuckled. Then I added, "And I’m also looking to see what new atrocity Trump has committed."  


The next morning, I was scrolling again through Google News when I came across a video clip from Steven Colbert, in which the host delivered this joke: "Every day we get more horrible news, and if you’re like me, you try curling up at night with a good book, which you then rest on your stomach while you spend two hours scrolling through Twitter for more horrible news." I burst out laughing.


A tech age problem

Colbert went on to say that this phenomenon is called doomscrolling. Experts say that spending too much time on social media can be bad for your health, especially when consuming too much negative news.


I have a fairly optimistic outlook on life, so I can keep bad news in perspective, but not everyone can. I have several friends who seem obsessed with gloomy news reports and the ominous views of internet "opinionists." Opinionists is my word for nonexperts who deliver views on topics from politics to food with authoritative conviction, when they are actually just repeating something they heard somewhere. Opinionists don’t like having their views challenged (something I am inclined to do), and they never admit to uncertainty.   


What experts say

After hearing about doomscrolling from Colbert, I googled the term to learn more. A story on NPR reports that scrolling though bottomless doom-and-gloom news for hours is self-destructive and can erode mental health. Clinical psychologist Dr. Amelia Aldao warns that doomscrolling traps us in a "vicious cycle of negativity" that fuels our anxiety. "Our minds are wired to look out for threats," she says. "The more time we spend scrolling, the more we find those dangers, the more we get sucked into them, the more anxious we get."


Solutions that only work if you use them

In the same article, Aldao—who specializes in cognitive behavioral psychology to treat patients with anxiety—offers several methods to "temper the doom." Readers can check them out here, but I question their effectiveness. People must have a desire to cut back on doomscrolling, and those I know who obsess over Facebook or Twitter are unlikely to have that desire. Many reading this have no doubt already formed intellectual justifications for their habits.


Some people thrive on bad news, as consumers and disseminators, convincing themselves that they do it as a public service, or it’s their social responsibility to be informed. Twice last week, I attempted to calm friends who seemed to be spiraling into serious despair over recent news reports. COVID-19 might dominate the news, but psychology books of the future may list doomscrolling as the most destructive viral pandemic of the early twenty-first century.



Overtime spat

Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw recently released a report showing that Erie County spent more on pandemic overtime than fifty-two other New York State counties combined, with nine counties not responding. County Executive Mark Poloncarz says the overtime is all legit. Erie County has one of only three COVID testing labs in the state. "I remember a lot of people were criticizing us for not testing enough early on, and now we're getting criticized for doing too much work," Poloncarz said. "There's no question that the Poloncarz administration abused this overtime to let highly paid political employees pad their pensions and pad their overtime," contends Mychajliw. Poloncarz retorts that Mychajliw spent most of his time during the pandemic campaigning for the Republican nomination for Congress in the 27th district (he came in third). To sum up: "You’re such a dipstick," says one, to which the other replies, "I know you are but what am I?"



That solves that

Recently, some Buffalo police officers have been covering their name tags with tape when responding to potentially thorny situations, in violation of their uniform dress code. Our get-tough mayor and police commissioner solved the problem last week by changing the rules so police only have to display their badge numbers. There is some justification for the change; officers were being threatened online by name, making them and their families feel unsafe. However, feeling threatened and unsafe is not new for many citizens, thanks to frequently recurring systemic injustices against people of color. The new no-name cop rule is one step closer to the world of HBO’s Watchmen, where police wear masks.


Post pandemic winner

There is a recent trend toward people leaving large cities, and moving to small ones, says Brookings Institute researcher William Frey, and it’s expected to grow after the pandemic. Where exactly will the people be going? An article in Medium says the answer is Buffalo. The reasons? One is climate change, which experts say will make Buffalo a great place to live.  Our city also has the infrastructure for a much larger population. Then the article cites Buffalo’s Race to Place, a program of city improvement being implemented here. There’s a lot more, and it all sounds good. Now all we have to do is hunker down and wait.


One for Fauci

As we reported last week, the spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, Michael Caputo, directed his science adviser, Paul Alexander, to censor what scientists, including Anthony Fauci, could say about the coronavirus. While it was Caputo who wanted to align science reports with President Trump’s views, Alexander actually did the dirty work. How did the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases respond?  "I told him to go take a hike," Fauci told a reporter at The Atlantic. Go Fauci.


Getting your flu shot

While we’re talking about Fauci, here’s a bit of informal advice he has for the public regarding the timing of flu shots. He gets his shot "toward the middle or end of October. I wouldn’t necessarily get it now in September," he says, "because there is evidence that, in fact, the immunity might wear off when you get to February and early March." You can read more about this in Desert News. The CDC recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October. They say that getting vaccinated too early is likely to be associated with reduced protection against flu infection later in the flu season, particularly among older adults. And adults shouldn’t get vaccinated twice. "Studies have not shown a benefit from getting more than one dose of vaccine during the same influenza season, even among elderly persons with weakened immune systems," says the CDC. To read more, read Misconceptions about Seasonal Flu and Flu Vaccines, from the CDC.


Quote of the week

From Mark Poloncarz, who posts regular reports on the extent of COVID-19 infection in Erie County, and is routinely bombarded with critical comments: "Until social media came along I would have never guessed how many people are combined climate scientists, epidemiologists, constitutional law experts, social scientists, and road engineers. It's amazing how much one person can know."



Political figures stricken

Three local figures were in the news recently for health issues. Each are worth noting.


Isn’t it ironic?

Developer and former school board member Carl Paladino is recovering from COVID-19, for which he was recently hospitalized. "It was horrible," Paladino is reported saying in a Buffalo News story. "It's a terrible disease, and you don't know when it's going to end. When you can't breathe in the middle of the night, it's not a good feeling." 


The former candidate for New York Governor has vocally opposed Governor Cuomo’s restrictions to combat the coronavirus. Experiencing the disease himself did not provide the epiphany others have had regarding the virus’s seriousness. Despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary, Paladino still considers COVID-19 to be no different than the flu, and he objects to state-mandated business closings.


Paladino is also unhappy that hydroxychloroquine is not widely available, despite the Food and Drug Administration’s finding that the medicine is ineffective at treating Covid-19, and possesses significant safety risks. Paladino prefers the anecdotal evidence of his acquaintances over research, demonstrating a fundamental lack of scientific understanding. But, thanks to the sort of scientific research he rejects, Paladino is expected to recover, though there’s no word on potential lingering damage. You know what they say: you can cure COVID-19, but, in the words of comic Ron White, you can’t fix stupid.


COVID-19 enters the Common Council

Buffalo Common Council member Joel Feroleto and his fiancée are in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19. "I feel okay, the strangest thing is I don’t have a sense of taste or smell right now and I'm certainly more fatigued," Feroleto told WGRZ news. He says he doesn’t know how he got the virus, since he follows safety protocols, but he recently participated in a 100-mile bike ride through Chautauqua County, in which the riders were socially distanced. When asked by WGRZ reporter Jeff Preval whether he has heard from Chautauqua County officials as to whether they’re doing contact tracing at the stops that Feroleto made during the ride, the councilmember answered, "I have not heard any of that no." Contact tracing is considered to be a critical component of efforts to contain outbreaks.


Sad news for Caputo

Last week, LSS included a story recounting Michael Caputo’s recent odd behavior, which led to him taking a sixty day leave from his federal government job. On Thursday, it was announced that he has "squamous cell carcinoma, a metastatic head and neck cancer which originated in his throat." He was diagnosed after he underwent surgery at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md. for a lump on his neck. Caputo acknowledges that he allowed health concerns to go unaddressed during the pandemic, even though his work placed him among numerous medical professionals. He is currently at home, where he will decide what treatment course to pursue. A symptom of this cancer is weight loss, which Caputo reported prior to the diagnosis. The cancer does not impact mental facility, so it would not appear to be directly related to Caputo’s recent behavior. 


The takeaway

LSS can be sharply critical of public figures when we think it’s warranted. But we don’t wish serious illness on anyone, and we wish everyone a full recovery. We do hope, however, that Paladino and Caputo—both Republicans and backers of Donald Trump—use this experience to reflect on the millions of Americans with poor or no health insurance. Caputo will, no-doubt, receive the best medical treatment, but many others with serious illnesses have minimal access to the same care.  


Maybe when Caputo and Paladino see the medical bills their insurance covers, they will imagine what it would be like to see their savings depleted, their credit destroyed, their house sold, to pay for the cost out of pocket. They might contemplate what would have happened if hospitals would not admit them except through the emergency room. They might contemplate what they would do if they couldn’t afford end-of-life care.


Feroleto, a Democrat, believes "everyone should have a public health insurance option."


Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.


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