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TOO MANY GRAPHS: losing the plot (March 26th) by Oli


This poorly drawn graph jokingly but accurately captures how my time online has been spent recently (and I’m sure many can relate). In late February I developed the bad habit of frequently checking coronavirus global statistics and regularly refreshing multiple news pages. Yesterday I visited the same case tracking website over a dozen times. I don’t know exactly what I am looking for, it could be that I am optimistically searching for reassuring signs of slowdown and recovery. Or it could be that the fascination of this horrifying spectacle has got me transfixed, and I am unable to look away as things go awry.

Viewing the current situation from a global statistical standpoint does give some psychological protection from what could be an overwhelming situation, and it is this type of distancing that allows figures such as Stephen Powis (the medical director of NHS England) to calmly announce that we will have “done well” if less than 20,000 people die from the virus.

But I recognise that this vantage point is completely at odds with the aims and goals of our research in the public health programme. The focus of peer research is on understanding the lived experience that lies buried in statistics and the knowledge of individuals and “experts by experience”. Right at this moment these experiences are being documented and recorded around the world in interviews, blogs, books and artwork. Perhaps switching to this form of media will put me more in touch with the reality of the situation and help ground my own experience?

Reflection is a great tool for identifying patterns and trends, just the act of writing this down should help break or disrupt my newly acquired habit and ultimately benefit my mental health in the long run. It seems to me that constant news checking, and case number tracking, is only of primary importance to epidemiologists, public health teams and policy makers. Understanding the significance of “the event” through person centered accounts is of equal (or greater) value than global statistics so my aim over the coming weeks is to make an effort to explore these different forms of media.

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