Mon | Aug 21, 2017

When Too Much Bad News Gets To Be a Bad Thing - Part I

Published:Tuesday | February 28, 2017 | 2:00 AM

I have what others call a bad habit: I rarely watch the news. I know, shameful (as I sit here writing for a newspaper.) Here's my explanation. I've discovered that I like to be in control of what I see and hear - mostly uplifting, results-oriented information. Quite the opposite of what's in the news. Often, a quick glance at the news means we are bombarded by more deaths, killings, and violence than one can stand. You may argue that this is just a reflection of what is happening, but the truth is, it does far more damage than good.

As a psychologist, I cannot become desensitised to the emotions and the effects that things have on people. Repeated viewing of graphic images, verbal recounts of brutal crimes, and a never-ending loop of human pain is something I cannot consume regularly. As a trained trauma specialist, I know first-hand the effects of trauma. I also know that repeatedly watching traumatic events and hearing about them is not healthy for our psyche.

Something that I have noticed in the Jamaican society is a gravitation towards graphic, trauma-related content. I'm not trying to broad-brush everybody, but I have seen on too many occasions, the bodies of people I don't know, bloody accident scenes, and gruesome crime scenes, all involuntarily. These have been forwarded to me through social media or casually shown to me without fair warning (because if I had been warned I would not have looked).

 

VICARIOUS TRAUMA

 

I have also seen too many people running towards instead of away from dangerous fights and heard that slight excitement upon hearing that someone else died. Most recently, it was the ominous voice note of a young woman who went missing a few days ago. It may just be my weak constitution, but those images tend to linger in my mind and I languish over the pain that the individuals are likely to have felt.

Not only is that something I would rather avoid, but there is something that most people do not know about the constant viewing of these images. Beyond desensitising us to the value of human life and suffering, it increases the likelihood of our own traumatisation. Understand this: THE thing that predicts how likely it is that you will become traumatised is your exposure to traumatic material. This means that increased exposure leads to increased levels of traumatisation. While there is no clear diagnosis for this level of traumatisation, it is commonly referred to as vicarious trauma. And it has long-term negative effects.