Traumatized by Television

Jaclyn Pistorio, MA, LCPC, NCC

Over the last year, I decided to stop watching the news. Why? Because there came a point where I couldn’t voluntarily watch traumatizing stories. Don’t get me wrong, I still stay up-to-date with current events via the Internet and social media, but I couldn’t stand just seeing negative stories. And I know I’m not the only one. My clients have also changed their news-watching behaviors because of the intensity of stories and images reported. I get it – this is what makes headlines, it’s news, it’s what is happening in our world, but it doesn’t make it any easier to see.


Decades ago you would have to be involved in an event to be traumatized by it, but now I can be traumatized without stepping out of my own home—how convenient. It seems like every week some nation is in crisis, a group of people is being oppressed, or people are killing others. I do not mean to make light of these events.  In reality, these events are so intense and traumatizing, I just can’t watch them.

A study reported by the National Center for PTSD (2007) showed that watching the news is related to increases in stress. Specifically, it found that after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that in the first few days, adults watched an average of eight hours of television related to the attacks, while children watched an average of three hours. In both children and adults, those who watched more coverage reported more stress than those who watched less. Even in countries outside the United States, research has shown those who watch clips of terrorism experience more anxiety than those who watched clips unrelated to terrorism. Now I am all for being informed about current events in our society, but at the cost of my mental health? I’m not so sure.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there are several things we can do to minimize the negative mental health impacts watching the news can have.

  • Be mindful of watching the news before bed, as this may decrease the quality and quantity of our sleep.
  • Read newspapers in order to get your current events fix, rather than hearing and watching graphic events unfold on your television.
  • For parents, be mindful of kiddos in the room when referencing or watching violent current events and invite your children to ask questions about news reports.

Obviously not all news is good news, but there are steps we can take to protect our mental health while still staying informed about what’s going on in our world.

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