I enjoyed this article because it highlights not just how irresponsible some of the media reporting around health studies, specifically mental health studies is, but how it happens because, IMHO, people don’t actually understand statistics.
Let me provide a completely made up example to demonstrate this as simply as I can.
Let’s say that right now, the rate of people with super-human eyesight is 1 in 10,000.
A study was conducted to take a look at the health benefits of drinking apple juice. They took a look at 10,000 people who drank apple juice every day, and lo and behold, two of them had super-human eyesight.
Now, mathematically speaking, you could report that drinking apple juice makes you 100% more likely to have super-human eyesight. Awesome, I foresee a rush on apple juice purchases!
Again, technically speaking that is true, the rate is normally 1 in 10,000, it goes up to two in 10,000 for apple juice drinkers. That’s double the normal rate, or 100% higher.
But it’s also not the whole story.
One, we have no idea if drinking apple juice is the thing that got that one extra person to have super-human eyesight. It could just be a coincidence.
Two, and most importantly, for 9,999 people, drinking apple juice did nothing to change their lack of super-human eyesight.
That’s why it’s so very important to read past the headlines. Yes, in the mental health area we need much more research, to find effective treatments and therapies. But we need not hang our hats on media headlines that tout questionable numbers and create unreasonable expectations. For 9,999 people out of 10,000 in my fake study above, drinking apple juice will not get them where they want to go. That’s OK, drinking apple juice isn’t going to harm you, and is good for you generally. But it does create disappointment when the headlines don’t match with what happens in our real life cases.Yes, in the mental health area we need much more research, to find effective treatments and therapies. But we need not hang our hats on media headlines that tout questionable numbers and create unreasonable expectations.Click To Tweet
So the next time you try something to help with your depression because a headline said that a study showed it might, don’t get discouraged if it isn’t the thing that helps you. Turns out it probably doesn’t help a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something that will help you either.
Be patient, and don’t lose yourself in the headlines.