Emmett Till’s mother made the decision to keep the casket open. This let the world know the horror that her son had endured. It also burned the image of her son’s battered face and body into the minds of generations to come.
It’s hard to recover from the video of the Rodney King beating, the image of a lifeless-looking Sandra Bland, the footage from Breonna Taylor’s home and the minutes that felt like hours of the knee on George Floyd’s neck. We are tasked with seeing these images, hearing the cries for help, and moving on with our day. When this graphic content is repeated on the news and social media, how does this really affect us?
While it is important and necessary to stay informed, repeatedly taking in media coverage of traumatic events has been found to cause real harm to one’s mental health.
In an interview with Psychology Today, Dr. Dana Rose Garfin explained findings from her research on the effects that media exposure to trauma has on mental health. “In all of these studies, we found that the more event-related media that people consumed, the higher their psychological distress,” said Garfin. In other words, the more traumatic events you read about or watch, the worse it is for your mental health.
Garfin’s research found that exposure through media had similar effects to real-life traumatic events.
The effects become even more harmful over time.
“Nevertheless, after conducting more than a dozen surveys on representative samples after exposure to a myriad of collective trauma, media exposure keeps showing up as one of the strongest predictors of distress over time,” Garfin said.
George Floyd’s slow death was replayed so many times. The video captured the world’s attention. The positive outcome included a flood of support for Black and minority issues. Finally, there were people willing to listen, to understand the disparities that exist and to start doing something about it. The downside was the daily dose of fear, stress and the lack of safety so many felt after watching that video again and again.
Social media and news outlets now warn us of the graphic nature of the next video that is about to play. We can then choose to keep watching or not.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers coping strategies, which include limiting the consumption of news stories that replay traumatic events. This can help reduce reliving the incidents.
Violent images can draw in clicks and views, but the lasting effects cannot be ignored.
In the interest of protecting our peace, it must be noted that being flooded with graphic traumatic images and footage is yet another form of trauma.
I sometimes wonder how much differently I would see the world if these images did not hold a place in my mind. I wonder how the knowledge of these tragedies colors my world view – whether I might be a little more optimistic, trusting or a little less weary. I may never know, but I can now choose to be informed without being re-traumatized.
Contact Editor-in-Chief Camike Jones at CamikeJ@indyrecorder.com or 317-762-7850.