The Impact of Graphic News on Mental Health

Have you ever read an article, watched a video, or heard a story that shook your emotional foundation? I read an article recently that was written in graphic detail about a murder. The murder impacted several people I know and care about. When I read the article, I could not help but think about how the victim’s loved ones would be impacted when they read the article. It is no secret that reporters and journalists use details to make news more shocking. The level of detail in this article was both shocking and disturbing. When an individual reads a story, an image is usually created in their mind. The more details provided, the more vivid the image appears in their mind. These images or imagined video clips can trigger trauma responses in the individual that are similar to symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Vicarious Traumatization has been studied for several years. Science acknowledges that frequently hearing about trauma at work can negatively impact mental health. Trauma exposure can also occur at home through the media. Dr. Pam Ramsden from the Faculty of Social Sciences found that 22% of participants in a research study scored highly on clinical measures of PTSD after being exposed to graphic news stories. (“Viewing violent news on social media can cause trauma,” 2015).

The following are symptoms that can occur after a traumatic event or exposure to traumatic details:

  • Shock, denial, disbelief
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Anger/irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Nightmares
  • Intrusive images of the event coming to the individual’s mind
  • Being easily startled
  • Fatigue
  • Sadness/hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling disconnected/numb
  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty trusting others

These symptoms are considered normal responses to a terrible event that should have never happened. These symptoms will often improve with time, emotional support, and self-care.

If these symptoms persist or significantly impact one’s ability to function at home or work, counseling may be needed to help the individual learn to move forward from the traumatic event.

To cope with traumatic events or exposure to traumatic details:

1. Take care of your physical health by eating, sleeping, exercising, and getting some fresh air. The mind and body are connected so improving physical health will improve mental health.

2. Avoid substance abuse. Alcohol and drug use may appear to ease the pain for a short time, but the long-term consequences and behaviors that can occur while intoxicated only make the problem worse.

3. Obtain support from friends, family, sponsors, church members, or other people in your support system. Keeping your thoughts and emotions bottled up will only make symptoms worse.

4. Limit exposure to social media and news. Take a break from Facebook or the news to give yourself space to recover.

5. It is okay to set boundaries with people around you. If people are talking about the traumatic event and you need a break, go for a walk or remove yourself from the situation. If this is not possible, ask the people around you not to talk about it while you are present. If you are comfortable, you can explain how the discussion is upsetting you. This doesn’t mean you don’t care or you aren’t upset about the situation. You are practicing self-care.

Know that you are not alone. It is very likely the people around you are having difficulty coping with the event and the news articles/videos about the event.

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