As the days get longer, and the snow continues to melt, spring seems like it’s finally here. Yet, many of us won’t treat the risks of sun exposure as seriously as we should. This is part of the reason why skin cancer rates have actually risen in the last 20 years, especially among people over 50.
Lax sun safety habits seem to be a combination of an aversion to sunscreen’s greasiness, fashion concerns and a generally blasé attitude about the possibility of getting skin cancer.
However, rising skin cancer rates are mostly because of increased sun exposure. In fact, the sun's dangerous ultraviolet (UV) rays are responsible for 90 per cent of melanoma cases.
In the 1930s, the chance of getting melanoma was one in 1,500. Now, it's one in 50. The main reason for this change is that we bare more skin than we used to. Yet, despite greater awareness about melanoma risk, there's still a lot of resistance to using sunscreen.
Another problem is that many of us don't know how to put it on properly—in order for sunscreen to work, people need to use a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30, and re-apply it every two hours. Moreover, whether it's using sunscreen, long sleeves, or a hat, because these tend to be unfashionable, we generally refuse them.
Popular culture’s images make us think that bronzed skin is more attractive, which is why many of us are willing to risk greater sun exposure. The vanity aspect also explains tanning salons’ popularity. And, although parents are normally vigilant about using sunscreen on their children, these habits readily disappear when kids are old enough to put it on themselves.
Doctors who don’t promote sunscreen to their patients are another factor. In fact, a 2013 study of U.S. physicians between 1989 and 2010, involving more than 18 billion consults, found that sunscreen was mentioned less than one per cent of the time. Perhaps even more striking is the fact that dermatologists reviewed it with fewer than two per cent of patients.
Interestingly, when discussing the sun’s dangers, warning people about the risk of melanoma seems less effective than appealing to their fear of aging, because most of us don’t think we will be that person who gets skin cancer. Let’s make 2015 different and not ignore literacy about sun safety.
It's been 13 days since Germanwings Flight 9525 slammed into the French Alps and killed everyone on board. As the details behind this story develop, alongside the perplexing tragedy, the media repeatedly reports on one part: the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz’s, mental health.
A jumble of facts, assumptions and speculations, this desperate coverage continues to make statements like:
“New information about Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz. Prosecutors now saying [he] was undergoing medical treatment.”
“Several newspapers in Germany reporting that Lubitz had been undergoing psychiatric therapy. Not quite a smoking gun, but a whiff of gunpowder in the air if nothing else.”
“The co-pilot in the Germanwings crash reportedly had a history of depression. Andreas Lubitz was even treated at this clinic in Düsseldorf within the past two months. For what we do not know.”
“He once told a girlfriend that the entire world would someday know his name. Lubitz [said] he was in psychiatric treatment and was planning a spectacular gesture.”
“Why on earth was he allowed to fly? Suicide pilot had a long history of depression.”
I think there’s agreement that we need to discuss Lubitz’s mental health since 150 lives were lost and everyone deserves answers. However, sensationalizing stories that intertwine mental health and disaster is damaging. We’ve come a long way in terms of de-stigmatizing mental illness, but this kind of coverage brings us back to square one.
Stigma is the biggest reason people avoid treating mental illness, and attitudes don’t change quickly. One badly reported example by the media drives people away from seeking treatment for illnesses like depression. Public safety is critical, but how many people will be hurt, because of how this story is being covered?
Mental health + 24/7, instantaneous news
Germanwings Flight 9525 is breaking news. However, we’re misinforming the public about the role mental health issues play in the lives of those afflicted with mental illness. Most depressed people don’t hurt others. Nor do they typically plan a “spectacular gesture.”
The truth is we cover mental health badly most of the time. That’s dangerous because it distorts peoples’ understanding of mental health.
Events need to be explained. In this case though, we’re rushing to explain a story we barely know anything about. We don’t know if Lubitz was depressed. What we know is that he suffered depression previously, which isn’t the same thing. In this story for example, we’re using depression as another word for dangerous, which simply isn’t true.
Fear of saying what we don’t know
The known is that Lubitz was treated for depression in 2009. The unknowns are what kind of treatment he was receiving when this plane went down, whether the mental health system’s accountability failed here, and what kind of psychological testing he actually endured as a pilot.
Knowing the answers to these questions would change the context of the few facts we do know. Yet, we generally have a tendency to use small pieces of information to explain way more than we should allow them to.
We don’t diagnose diabetes and heart disease based on incomplete information, nor should we diagnose depression and psychosis before we know the facts.