The media and the medical malaise
Can you imagine a time when reading newspapers, surfing internet or watching television is injurious to your health? If it isn’t already, it will soon be. The three information superhighways are dishing out more than news, views and juice—they are scaring people. I am not talking about everyday crimes, terrorist acts, urban unrest, tragic accidents, natural calamities, starvation deaths, corrupt politicians or depression and suicides. They are terrifying enough to make you lose sleep when you are already sleeping less.
I refer to the medical studies issued, most often, by western health experts and scientists on the course new and existing diseases are taking. And, strangely, they all seem to be making headlines about India. Here’s an example: The International Diabetes Federation has reported that 7% of India’s adult population, or 58.7 million people, will have diabetes by 2010. That’s like, oh my God, this year. There’s more. The study reveals that some 30% more are already suffering from IGT or pre-diabetes, most of whom end up becoming diabetic within a decade.
As far as India-centric studies go, before diabetes, it was heart; before heart, it was cancer; before cancer, it was AIDS, before AIDS, it was tuberculosis…and guess what’s coming? Anti-pharma lobbies allege that these studies are funded by global pharma giants just so they can dump their drugs and therapies in a developing nation like India or some poor Third World country (read The Constant Gardener by John le Carré for a chilling perspective). Whatever the merits or demerits of these estimates, the grim news is that Indians are getting "sicker" by the year.
What is worse is that we are lapping it all up—the medical studies, the findings, the prescriptions, and the remedies—and worrying ourselves ever more sick. Talk of irony.
The same holds true for health-related information in newspapers and on internet and, to a lesser degree, on television. Being aware of illnesses and taking necessary precautions such as making lifestyle changes is wise, though self-cure via internet is strictly no. Reading about a disease, behaving like you already have it, and running it up on internet or rushing to the GP to check up on an imaginary illness is a mental malady. Sadly, people, young and old, everywhere are doing it.
The outcome: health anxiety and gradually a host of health problems, real ones too.
Joseph Heller probably had the 21st century Indian in mind when he observed in his famous 1961 satirical novel Catch-22: “Hungry Joe collected lists of fatal diseases and arranged them in alphabetical order so that he could put his finger without delay on any one he wanted to worry about.”
So what is the remedy? Paramahansa Yogananda, the spiritual master and author of Autobiography of a Yogi, has a suggestion: Don’t read the newspaper first thing in the morning, nothing can be more depressing. Now extend this rule to internet and television.
“Newspapers are the gods of information. They are the soul of modern business. They are the epitome of the city news. The modern world cannot get along without them. They can act as the breath of life to noble human activities or they can react like chlorine gas to asphyxiate people's independent thinking,” says Yogananda. “Newspapers ought not to introduce poisonous news...human minds, for the thirsty, un-discriminative masses drink poisonous, unwholesome news wherever they find it, and hence suffer with nervousness, worry, fear…”
Instead, the Yogi recommends balanced spiritual living consisting of meditation first thing in the morning, before we begin our daily duties, and at intervals throughout the day, and again in the early evening when we have finished our daily work, and once more late at night alone in our rooms before retiring.
Our grandparents, if not our parents, depending on how old we are, lived by this spiritual instruction up to a ripe age. Why don't we?