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There is always something violent, sad, or troublesome on the news. And there are times when we see reports of truly horrific things happening across the world. Does the news affect your mental health? What about if you have your own issues with past trauma and suffer from PTSD? Does watching reports of violence, especially with video coverage, make your post-traumatic stress disorder worse? What can you do besides simply trying to ignore what is going on in the world?

Media Overload and Mental Health

Psychologists tell us that they are seeing more and more patients who are stressed out from the news. This appears to be especially true among teenagers and those whose primary news sources are social media sites. Worrisome news items range from predictions of dire effects of global warming and mass animal extinctions to video footage of dead and dismembered people killed in the war in Ukraine or, more recently, by Hamas terrorists in Israel. Although experiencing trauma first hand commonly leads to mental health problems like PTSD, a constant deluge of disturbing and frightening news also affects people with and without prior mental health issues.

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Click Bait Versus News in Context

There are a couple of reasons why teens are prone to have mental health issues related to troubling items in the news. One is that they are more likely to get their “news” on social media. Much of what they consume is “click bait.” This is content designed to be worrisome, cause anger, or otherwise drive a person to stay connected or follow a link to the next site. It is commonly not true and meant only as propaganda. This sort of repeated experience takes a toll on mental health.

The other issue with news causing mental health problems is whether or not the person can put the news in context. This is a bit like PTSD where a person experienced trauma years before and that trauma is still part of their life. Someone who lived through World War II, the Korean War, or the Vietnam War as a reference point when they see news reports of fighting in Ukraine. They know how terrible things can be and they have a sense that such things also come to an end. These older people also tend to watch news programs that present the news in context, edit out the most disturbing images while still reporting the news, and provide rational discussions by those with pertinent knowledge and insights.

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Avoid Media Saturation Overload

There is a tendency in the competitive world of news reporting to scare listeners. People get the sense that they need to “stay tuned in” for the next news even when they know there will nothing available until the next day, week, or month. This sort of problem is not new but is worse today because of how interconnected we are via the internet. Something important here is to decide just now necessary it is to stay tuned in. If you live in South Florida and a category hurricane has just passed over Cuba and you are next, you ought to stay tuned in and take appropriate action. If the Russians just bombed a town in Ukraine and killed more civilians there is no immediate action that you need to or ever can take. Sorting out what has to do with you and your family and what doesn’t helps a person know when to tune in and when to turn off the news.

Does News Trauma Make Preexisting Mental Health Problems Worse?

Military veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan may still suffer from the effects of the service. Memories of combat situations, the death or injury of their comrades, may never really go away. Images of innocent Israeli civilians and, especially, children who were butchered by Hamas could almost have been custom made to provoke PTSD flashbacks in these people. Chronic immersion in depressing news items is likely to make depression worse as well.

To keep from having the news make mental illness worse a person is best served by avoiding “click bait” sources and focusing sources that provide honest reporting put in context. And the individual needs to turn off the news and resume their daily life when the news is troubling.

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