Is the News Bad for Your Health?

Lately, it seems our iPhones, televisions and news updates have been flooded with stories of shootings, terrorist attacks and deaths nearly every day. One may argue that these events have been occurring for as long as humans can remember but the 24-hour news cycle and social media ups people’s exposure to graphic videos and images, which can affect our mood, outlook and psyche.

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First, I would like to clarify the degree to which a victim or someone who directly witnessed the event is affected compared to an average American who is glued to the television set and vicariously being exposed to these shootings. The difference is subtle but the effects are strong. Someone who has direct exposure, directly witnessed the event, extreme indirect exposure in the course of a professional job (not through the media) or by indirectly learning that a close relative/friend was exposed may experience the symptoms of trauma can potentially qualify for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Other symptoms of trauma, such as recurrent memories, nightmares, flashbacks, etc., would need to be present for the patient to be diagnosed with PTSD.

Technically speaking, watching these events throughout the day on the television screen does not qualify for PTSD but can impact lives in a meaningful way as many of us have seen over the recent strand of shootings. A study by Anthony Feinstein, Blair Audet and Elizabeth Waknine, published in peer-reviewed journal JRSM in 2014, mentioned that the frequency and duration of exposure is one of the strongest factors in predicting how the news can negatively affect our moods and outlooks. No actual data has been published on how many minutes or hours produces a direct clinical effect on depression, anxiety or hyperarousal symptoms.

Interestingly, some psychiatrists might offer balancing “negative” news with “good” news to help counterbalance the inundation of killings on our television sets. I believe this piece of advice can help us be mindful of our surroundings since watching something more akin to our pleasure helps us be aware of reality, what we are fortunate to have, and what we can and cannot control. The media will never stop publishing news pertinent to society, but controlling the frequency with which we glare at our iPhones and rotating that with topics we find more pleasurable is an alternative solution to helping us all cope with those affected by these gruesome events.

dr. uruj kamal

dr. uruj kamal

Dr. Uruj Kamal is Chief Resident of Adult Outpatient Psychiatry at Baystate Medical Center-University of Massachusetts Medical School. A Stony Brook native, she enjoys combining her knowledge of mental health with healthy living. Dr. Kamal has a special interest in outpatient adult psychiatry.