Media Trauma- My reaction to the 94th Academy Awards

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We should be able to watch television without being traumatized. Me and people all over the world were so excited to watch our favorite people in the film industry be awarded for their achievements. The programming was going excellently. The outfits were stunning, the nominations were close, and the performances were excellent. I don’t normally watch television, but I decided to watch the Academy Awards this year because I was familiar with many of the nominees. I was convinced this was going to be the best thing I’ve watched all year, up until Will Smith was violent with Chris Rock. The slap was one aspect. He slapped him and was verbally aggressive with him. It was very violent and a poor display in front of viewers throughout the world. Will Smith was in no way justified for his actions. Just as he is an actor and teasing him is fair game, teasing Jada, an actress and media figure, is fair game as well. It’s what you sign up for at the Academy Awards. I’ve never seen an Academy Awards that wasn’t a miniature roast session. In addition to Will’s poor self control, viewers also had to witness how the rich and famous are allowed to go unpunished and undisciplined for their actions. As we were left stunned, triggered, or confused; Will Smith was allowed to laugh at more jokes, enjoy his night, and accept his award Regardless of the apologies and statements that have been released, me and other viewers had to relive traumas that we should not had to relive watching an awards show. It wasn’t until the next day that I processed how triggered I was. When the incident happened I immediately became angry. I was agitated and unhappy. I could nearly enjoy the rest of the program. After the show, I had to process with friends and family. I couldn’t sleep. My rage heightened into the next day and it was at that point I realized I was traumatized or reliving some past trauma.

I’m writing this in the scope of the Academy Award incident because it was recent and likely negatively affected many. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that this problem is not isolated to that event. On a daily basis, different types of people are triggered by the media. I want to further emphasize that I’m not talking about social media or entertainment programming. I’m referring to programming that doesn’t have ratings, disclaimers, or carry any expectation that they should be harmful to the average viewer. I feel the media is incredibly irresponsible in the way it covers information. Over the last month, I’ve been exposed to all types of trauma from news broadcasting. I’ve seen countless replays of Chris Rock being assaulted ( physical trauma), footage of a man attempting to rape a woman outside of her home ( sexual trauma), and audio replays or transcripts of explicit/offensive language (emotional trauma). People watch these programs for many reasons: staying informed, knowing what to pray for, the weather or traffic updates, and even entertainment. However, I don’t think anyone watches these programs to have mental health problems.

Let me explain. Just as I was triggered by the Academy awards, many people are triggered and develop mental illness from the news and other “benign” programs that they watch on a daily basis. The DSM V acknowledges that experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event may contribute to PTSD, but this excludes exposure through electronic media, television, movies, or pictures, unless this exposure is work related. Anecdotally, I don’t agree with the exception. I first started to question this as a resident when I received my first set of patients in the clinic. One of the patients was a reasonable woman that presented with worsening depression and anxiety after the 2016 shootings at a gay nightclub in Orlando. She described not being able to watch the news because it increasingly became traumatic. They showed graphic footage of the tragic event and aftermath. I’ve continued to think about her experience and the countless amount of patients who explained that they’ve had worsened symptoms and experienced new symptoms in response to what’s released in the media. The images are so graphic and visceral that they hit us to the core. Although we as a people tend to be more desensitized to the media, we are still subject to the cumulative assaults to our mental health.

This is not a call for censorship, cancelling, or more political correctness. This is a call for responsibility. The media has been reckless with how they have exposed people to unnecessarily graphic and traumatic footage. We are currently in a mental health crisis and I firmly believe that the media is a huge factor in this epidemic. I don’t have the answers, but I do believe that once this dialogue starts and continues we’ll be closer to turning on the television without being one image closer to a mental breakdown.

Please share and comment if you felt that this resonated with you and your experiences with the media. Thank you again for reading.

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