We examined three news portals that provide information on whether children and adolescents had more hospitalizations before and during the Corona pandemic. The articles always refer to the same primary source, the german Federal Statistical Office. Now let’s look at how different journalists and online media deal with the topic.
A lack of scientific quality in „Zeit Online“
The first article is from Zeit Online. First of all, the article describes the statement by the Federal Statistical Office, which states that there was an increase of 24 percent among children and adolescents in inpatient treatment from 2015 to 2019. Next you can see a black and white photo of a girl, who is holding her face down. Under the picture it says: “An above-average number of depressed children and adolescents were treated in clinics in the past year.”
It should be mentioned here that the author does not list any sources for the hospital stays of children and adolescents for the year 2020. The author claims that there are currently frequent reports of depression in children and adolescents. Also that the cause is isolation through contact blocking and homeschooling. “Currently” and often” are very vague statements. The author does not name any sources for these claims. In the middle section, she writes that even before the pandemic, there was a significant increase in hospital stays by children and adolescents who were hospitalized for depression. Zeit online refers here to the Federal Statistical Office as a press release in order to give valid primary source. The numbers match and the recipient can now follow the whole thing.
The next paragraph begins with “More women affected”. It starts with “The increase was therefore above average.“ It refers to the last statement in the previous section. However, the structure of the section does not make this clear to the recipient at first glance. In addition, it is written that in the same period, the number of all patients discharged from hospital with depression rose by half a percent to a total of 264,000. This statement is wrong. On the website of the Federal Statistical Office you can read that this is about patients. The author only refers to the female gender here. It is therefore assumed that the first sentence about the above-average increase also relates to the female gender.
Towards the end, the author describes how many psychological psychotherapists and child and adolescent therapists worked in 2019. In the next few sentences she writes how the numbers have changed since 2015. Here the author refers to the Federal Statistical Office, but she does not disclose this in the paragraph. The focus of this article is on the surveys of the Federal Statistical Office. In the last Part you can watch a video about depression and how antidepressants work.
Source transparency at Spiegel
The second article can be found by Spiegel.de in the section Psychology. This article covers the same topic as the previous article. It begins with the headline „Hospital stays for children and adolescents with depression have increased sharply”. The Federal Statistical Office is named above.
The first paragraph describes that the number of children and adolescents who are hospitalized for mental illness has increased by 24 percent within five years. In the next sentence, in contrast to the “Zeit Online” article, the author writes very clearly that the numbers could continue to rise due to the pandemic. The relation to the present is given. That makes it more relevant for readers to read on.
Then you can see a photo with a little boy who is sitting alone on a bench and who is looking sadly at the floor. The picture gives you the feeling of how sad the boy is and that he has problems. In context, it fits very well.
The next paragraph also deals with the core topic as in the “Zeit Online” article. However, it is written in a more understandable manner and a common thread can be seen in this article. In addition, this paragraph clearly describes that current figures from the Federal Statistical Office are only available until 2019, i.e. before the corona pandemic. It can also be seen that in 2015 14,500 young patients were treated in hospital for depression. “The increase was therefore above average.” Here it becomes immediately clear which statement the author is referring to. There is no room for misunderstanding as in the other article.
Now the assertion is made that children are particularly affected by the pandemic. There is a link from Spiegel to an article on this subject. The author names a representative study by Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE), which has found that almost every third child shows psychological abnormalities less than a year after the start of the pandemic. The study is called the “Copsy Study” and is short for corona and psyche. The Copsy study is linked in the article.
The last part of the article highlights the statement that the number of psychotherapists are increasing. These facts can be found in the press releases of the Federal Statistical Office. The “Zeit online”-article also took up this. The difference in this paragraph to the one from “Zeit” is that a common thread in the hierarchy and division can be seen throughout the text. The reader is taken along and, while reading the article, questions arise which are answered directly in the follow-up text.
The perspective of the german depression aid in RP Online
On the rp-online.de page under the heading “Panorama” you can find the article “High rise in depression in children and adolescents even before the pandemic”. In this article, unlike in the other two articles, the thesis “worsening of symptoms due to lockdown” has already been put forward in the first sentence.
The next is a black and white picture showing a female holding her forehead. Here, too, the imagery is appropriate, as in the other articles. The black and white and the composition convey that it is about suffering. The caption makes it even clearer: “Psychological complaints such as depression are increasing more and more.” Furthermore, the article bases its assertions on the data collected by the Federal Statistical Office, as the other two articles have already done. The middle section of the text also describes the same information that has already been analyzed in the other two articles.
The article refers further below to the German Depression Aid (Deutsche Depressionshilfe): “The German Depression Aid warned on Tuesday in Leipzig that 44 percent of patients diagnosed with depression reported worsening over the past six months.” There is no link or reference, but we have double-checked the source and found that the data is correct. It comes from the German Depression Aid in the section „Press material Germany Barometer Depression 2021″. There is also a reference to a special survey that found cuts in medical care and negative effects due to a lack of contact. We also checked the source and declared it correct.
In the last part, the evaluated data from the survey by the German Depression Aid are presented. This is divided into the first lockdown and the second lockdown.
Finally, it was noticed that this article uses sources that the other articles did not take into account. The focus here is on the surveys of the German Depression Aid.
On the basis of the three articles that we have read, we noticed that the “Spiegel” article and the “rb-online” article are very well journalistically researched. Claims have always been substantiated and continued with sources and partially written sources. In addition, there is also a nice flow of reading that keeps the recipient reading the article. It was also particularly noticeable that “Zeit Online” article was lacking in scientific quality in many places. Furthermore, a false statement has been made. The writing style also leaves some questions unanswered. The most informative, with the most hyperlinks to sources, is the “Spiegel” article.
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RESEARCH | ARTICLE © Femke Hertger, Prusche Aryan, Jade University of Applied Sciences Wilhelmshaven, DE