In an increasingly socialized and globalized era, people are able to convey and exchange new ideas at a rapid speed. Information that would previously require hours or days to be transferred to another person is able to quickly spread across the world in seconds. Along with this is the increase in accessibility to news and the media. However, the emergence of newer media forms includes the transmission of raw, unaltered, and chilling images.
The possibility that PTSD develops as a result of watching traumatic events through social media or a television has remained a controversial topic for years. The DSM-5 states that PTSD is triggered through exposure “to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violation, exposure must result from directly one or more; experiencing the traumatic event, witnessing the traumatic event in person, learning that the traumatic event occurred to a close family member or close friend or experiences first-hand repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event,” while specifically outlining that it cannot be developed through media, pictures, television or movies unless it is work related—if you work as a police officer and watch a video detailing a crime scene, you can potentially develop PTSD (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
One of the most prominent research studies conducted regarding the link between PTSD and social media was through Pam Ramsden. In 2015, the psychology professor at the University of Bradford conducted a study that surveyed 189 men and women about their reactions and responses towards various pictures of traumatic events. She conducted a personality questionnaire and trauma assessment including videos of the 9/11 terrorist attack, suicide bombings, and school shootings. She found that over a fourth for participants met the criteria of PTSD. She suggests that this second-hand exposure, particularly through social media, to traumatic or violent events are harmful due to their raw and unedited nature. Her research adds to the growing body of concern over the impact of social media on a person’s physical and mental wellbeing.
Further research conducted by the University of California, Irvine suggested that coverage of traumatic events may exacerbate the symptoms of those who are vulnerable to PTSD, have past history of mental illness, or have a history of trauma. The researchers of this study acknowledged that their results don’t illustrate a cause-and-effect relationship between consumption of media coverage of traumatic events and PTSD. However, among their findings, they discovered that three years after those terrorist attacks, those who reported watching the most Sept. 11 coverage had the most severe case of post-traumatic stress symptoms, such as intrusive thoughts, nightmares, anxiety, insomnia, and headaches. However, researchers interpreted it as: “media coverage can be an unhelpful factor for those predisposed to PTSD in the first place” (Healy, 2013).
There is constant discussions and research being produced regarding the impact of the media on a person’s development of illnesses such as depression, OCD, or PTSD. With our world becoming more modernized and connecting constantly, it is important to discuss the impact of the media on a person’s mental health and wellbeing.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
British Psychological Society. (2015, May 6). Viewing violent news on social media can cause trauma. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 2, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150506164240.htm
Healy, M. (2013, December 09). Can you get PTSD from watching media coverage of an event? Maybe. http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-media-coverage-trauma-stress-20131209-story.html
Holman, E. A., Garfin, D. R., & Silver, R. C. (2014). Media’s role in broadcasting acute stress following the Boston Marathon bombings. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(1), 93–98. http://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1316265110