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THL chief concerned about impact of crisis reporting on Finland's mental health

The THL head wondered why media outlets publish daily Covid-19 infection rates, but hadn't done so during other epidemics.

Markku Tervahauta Sannikan haastattelussa
The head of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, Markku Tervahauta. Image: Yle

Head of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) Markku Tervahauta, said he is concerned that the coronavirus pandemic plays an outsized role in the minds of Finnish residents and criticised constant media coverage of the situation.

"Corona has been number one for quite some time, and perhaps the quantity and intensity of the coverage has been a bit excessive. We should now change our tone so that reporting of each new outbreak would not increase fears of the pandemic," Tervahauta said.

In particular, Tervahauta said he wondered why the media began regularly publishing daily coronavirus infection rates, even though it hadn't done so during other serious epidemics.

"If, for example, we had a more serious influenza epidemic, it was not reported like that every day," he noted.

"Instead of daily infection case numbers and hospital bed occupancy figures, it would be good [for the media] to focus on, among other things, the typical risks posed by the virus in everyday life, how they can be avoided, and what the national and regional health authorities' recommendations are," Tervahauta said.

Better to focus on prevention

However, the institute chief said he did not want to diminish the dangers linked to the global pandemic.

"I do not want to downplay the seriousness of coronavirus, but we have other infectious diseases and illnesses that can incapacitate and even kill [people], but the media do not monitor them with the same intensity," he explained, adding that the constant drumbeat of news about the virus can threaten the population's wellbeing, particularly its mental health.

"This clearly increases people's psychological burden, and perhaps unnecessarily causes them to worry about how things will turn out. The coronavirus is just one part of life. If it becomes the only story told by news outlets, it will create a psychological burden for many," he added.

Tervahauta said people should keep in mind ways to prevent the spread of the disease.

"We hope that people take everyday hygiene guidelines seriously, because people's everyday habits will ultimately determine how the disease spreads," he said.

Tervahauta said he'd like to see a new normal develop, with fewer catastrophic stories about coronavirus in the news and more coverage of everyday life.

"We should continue to encourage each other with the notion that normal life is possible. It does not necessarily mean a complete return to [pre-pandemic times], but to the kind of good life where health risks posed by coronavirus are taken into account," he said.

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