Because the COVID-19 pandemic started, public well being specialists and scientists have struggled to get some segments of the general public to heed their warnings in regards to the significance of following public well being measures aimed toward controlling the unfold of the virus.
Lise Saffran, an affiliate instructing professor on the MU Faculty of Well being Professions, research public well being and earned a grasp’s diploma in high-quality arts and artistic writing from the College of Iowa Author’s Workshop. In a just lately revealed commentary titled “Public well being storytelling follow,” she explains how storytelling can assist public well being officers resonate key messages with their supposed audiences. Beneath are her feedback:
Tales are extra than simply numbers
As scientists and public well being officers, we have to first perceive we’re telling a story once we are talking to the general public, whether or not we notice it or not. We have a tendency to only relay information, however we can not simply assume the information speaks for itself.
One highly effective instrument is metaphors. Within the context of monitoring the unfold of COVID-19, an instance may very well be considering of case numbers being monitored in particular areas not as “Large Brother” watching over us, however reasonably as a smoke alarm. We could not all the time scent the smoke, however we have to know when there’s smoke circulating close by so we can assist defend ourselves and others.
One other instance may very well be when public well being officers relay traits about COVID-19 case numbers to the general public. As a substitute of merely stating that case numbers remained pretty regular one week and sharply rose the subsequent week, an efficient metaphor may very well be describing a sink that has water dripping slowly from a faucet one week and rapidly overflooding the subsequent week.
Using that empathetic creativity and creativeness helps our tales turn into extra memorable and fewer summary.
‘Flat’ characters versus ‘spherical’ characters
It may be tempting to label those that typically fail to adjust to public well being measures as merely egocentric or evil people who simply do not care, however efficient storytelling requires placing apart assumptions and attempting to know why advanced, multi-faceted human beings are making sure selections in a specific context.
For instance, faculty college students throughout the nation have been naturally excited to socialize with associates after coming again to campus throughout the fall semester of 2020 after their spring semester was halted abruptly by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some selected to socialize open air given the proof that the coronavirus tends to unfold extra simply indoors, however within the chilly wintertime, that out of doors socialization proved to be tough. To assist deal with these issues, Northeastern College, for instance, put in dozens of out of doors firepits and propane heaters.
Somewhat than merely labeling faculty college students who select to socialize throughout a pandemic as reckless and unsympathetic, do not forget that socialization is especially necessary for the psychological well being and growth of younger adults.
Telling a extra full story not solely highlights the complexities of a difficulty at hand, it can also result in methods to deal with the problem, as proven by the out of doors firepits at Northeastern College. In a TedTalk titled “The hazard of a single story,” Chimamanda Adichie mentioned, “The only story creates stereotypes, and the issue with stereotypes just isn’t that they’re unfaithful, however that they’re incomplete, they make one story turn into the one story.”
Social determinants of well being
Lastly, it’s essential to take a step again and acknowledge that social and structural determinants of well being, corresponding to training ranges and socioeconomic standing, affect habits way over particular person selections. As Individuals, we have a tendency to think about ourselves as people making particular person selections, however analysis reveals an individual’s habits varies extensively relying on the context that individual is in.
This is applicable to all facets of public well being, not simply COVID-19. Earlier than telling somebody to quit smoking cigarettes, it could be sensible to think about the stresses that individual may be below at work, faculty or dwelling that’s inflicting the urge to smoke within the first place. Somewhat than telling somebody to train extra, contemplate if the individual lives in a neighborhood with sidewalks out there to train on. Empathy goes a good distance when contemplating the circumstances deprived folks discover themselves in, typically by no fault of their very own.
Lisa Saffran, Public well being storytelling follow, The Lancet (2021). DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(21)00841-2
College of Missouri
How storytelling can assist public well being officers fight mistrust, skepticism (2021, October 6)
retrieved 6 October 2021
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