The Trauma of News

The Trauma of News

Vicarious trauma is a term that refers to stress responses that occur in a person as a result of witnessing or working with people’s traumatic experiences. It can be described as a secondary form of trauma that may occur when we carry or hold onto stories of the trauma of others, usually as a result of having seen or heard or read about the vivid details of a traumatic event, including the trauma of news stories.newspaper_Fotor 452x265

Vicarious trauma reactions vary among individuals: they may appear as more intense or more frequent stress responses that a person may normally experience; they may include anxiety, anger, fear, withdrawal, loss of interest, appetite or sleep; they may resemble the trauma reactions of those people who have been directly impacted by the traumatic event.

Frequent exposure to trauma stories undoubtedly increases the risk of vicarious, or secondary trauma reactions in a person, although being exposed to a single traumatic story can also result in vicarious trauma. It is an occupational risk for counsellors, emergency responders, community support workers and anyone who works at close quarters to violence and death.

I am of the opinion that it is not only professional workers who are at risk, but it has become the case that vicarious trauma is a real risk for everybody. Not only is it a risk, but I am confident that much of the stress, anxiety and depression symptoms experienced by many today, are compounded, if not caused, by constant exposure to horror and conflict. In today’s world, where tragedy and hostility seem to be regularly reported through news channels or social media, I imagine that no one can avoid being exposed to the gory and grim descriptions and images of trauma and horror.

Sadly, we have seen the priority of news reporting appear as stories of tragedy, conflict and fear. There seems to be no end to the churning out of horror and gore on the screens in front of us, or in the newspapers, and it seems that more and more of these stories and images have crept into prime time television viewing and take up the majority of prime news space and air time. This is in stark contrast to the snippets of other less confronting and perhaps even more uplifting news.

newsreader_FotorWith the daily news alone, there is a regular supply and vivid exposure to trauma and conflict. Not only do we get to hear and read about these stories, but we are given very graphic accompaniment as well: bodies bloodied and lying on the ground at the scene of an accident, other bodies covered up or being carried in a body bag into a vehicle, portraying a death scene, and some images more horrific than this. Often the same grim images are replayed several times during the reporting of a single story, meaning that for one story alone, there are multiple presentations of drama or horror, almost to ensure it seems, that it makes a significant impression upon us. Further reporting, posting and re-posting of graphic stories and images by people via social media channels means that there is an unrelenting abundance of exposure to conflict and horror.

Perhaps there is the belief that these types of stories have greater public consumption and draw a larger audience. This may be the case, but consumption may also be related to availability and abundant supply. If there is an overabundance of a particular product in the marketplace, versus reduced quantities of an alternative superior product, there will generally be greater consumption of the most available product – until – people become aware of the differences in quality with regards to health benefits and dangers, when they begin to shift towards the healthier or safer option. Marketplace responses then attempt to meet the increased demand of the product.

And so with news stories: Who among us is not affected or disturbed in any way by the content delivery of the daily news and the constant presentation of horror? Does it not arouse some reaction within each of us – feelings of upset, anger, disgust, repulsion, or some other stress reaction?

When we consider that our daily diet of news information generally has a theme of death, violence, accidents, conflict, lawsuits and disasters from human or natural causes, is it any wonder that we have unprecedented levels of anxiety disorders, depression and suicide?

If we are to help reduce our stress levels and our risk of vicarious trauma, it is vital that we consider how much conflict and horror we are consuming. If we relate self-care to other aspects of our lives, we have seen an increased awareness and a shift towards natural foods that are healthier for us. So let us not limit ourselves to the healthy option on just one (nutritional) level. It is just as important to be mindful of our intake of substances on a mental and emotional level, with a view to reducing our intake of emotionally laden, stress provoking material. Undoubtedly it’s time to choose the healthier option of an information diet that consists of more uplifting and good news stories, and reduce our intake of horror and conflict.goodnewsday_Fotor

Surely news reporting channels have an ethical responsibility to provide a greater balance in reporting, ensuring that there is at least equal time and space dedicated to good news and bad news. There is a lot of good that occurs in our community and in the world, but maybe these stories are just too ordinary to report. Perhaps it’s time to have greater appreciation for the ordinary. Perhaps it is time to at least even up the scales.

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