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  • Writer's pictureMichaelene Dowers

Traumavision: The Effect of Trauma on Television Being Viewed Repeatedly

Imagine turning on the news and being confronted with scenes of violence, natural disasters, or tragedies day after day. These images and stories, often repeated in a continuous loop, can have an effect on our mental health. This phenomenon, which I’ll call "Traumavision," refers to repeated exposure to traumatic events through television. In this blog, we will explore how this constant bombardment of distressing content affects viewers immediately and in the long term.


This is not an “imagine” situation for many, including myself. I decided to write this blog post because I was watching one of my favorite crime shows, “The First 48,” and witnessed a jarring scene where a man was gunned down on camera. You see him arguing from a distance with another man, then you see him drop, and then a pool surrounds him. This man died. A man died on camera. I watched a man die on TV.


This is not the first time I’ve witnessed a person die; it probably won’t be the last time I witness a person die.


Trauma is an emotional response to a distressing event or series of events. This can include natural disasters, accidents, acts of violence, and other significant stressors. Trauma can lead to a range of psychological issues, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These conditions can alter an individual's behavior, emotions, and cognitive functions. Consider the impact of events like 9/11, school shootings, or major natural disasters. The intense media coverage of these events can leave viewers feeling anxious, fearful, and helpless.


Consider watching a man die, on television.


A man died, on camera. I watched a man die on TV.


Since its inception, television has been a powerful medium for storytelling and information dissemination. It has the ability to bring distant events into our living rooms, making them feel immediate and personal. Television shapes public perception and can influence social norms and behaviors. It has the power to inform, educate, and sometimes mislead. Traumatic events often receive extensive media coverage, with footage and reports being broadcast repeatedly.


Consider seeing another man die, on television.


A man died, on camera. I watched a man die on TV.


This constant repetition can exacerbate the emotional impact on viewers. Watching traumatic events unfold on television can trigger immediate stress responses, such as increased heart rate, sweating, and feelings of panic or fear. Over time, repeated exposure to traumatic content can lead to chronic stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Viewers may develop a persistent sense of fear and vulnerability. Continuous exposure to traumatic content can desensitize viewers, making them less sensitive to violence and suffering. This can lead to a numbing effect, where viewers become less emotionally responsive to future traumatic events. Viewers can experience trauma vicariously, meaning they develop trauma-related symptoms by repeatedly watching traumatic events happen to others. This can result in symptoms like those experienced by direct victims of trauma. Research has shown that repeated exposure to traumatic content on television can lead to increased levels of anxiety and stress. For instance, studies conducted after major disasters have found that extensive media exposure to these events is associated with higher rates of PTSD symptoms among viewers.


Four days ago I watched a man die. His wife screamed.


A man died, on camera.


I watched a man die on TV.


The media coverage of events like Hurricane Katrina, the 9/11 attacks, and the COVID-19 pandemic has been linked to increased mental health issues among viewers. The constant replaying of distressing images and stories can have a lasting impact. Psychologists and media experts emphasize the need for balanced media consumption. They suggest that viewers be mindful of their media intake and take breaks when needed to avoid overwhelming themselves with distressing content.


Four days ago, I watched a man die. His wife screamed. They replayed the video.


A man died on camera.


I watched a man die on TV.


Viewers need to recognize signs of trauma, such as persistent anxiety, nightmares, and emotional numbness. Understanding these symptoms can help individuals seek appropriate help. Practical advice for mitigating the impact of “Traumavision” includes taking regular breaks from media, practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques, and engaging in activities that promote mental well-being, such as exercise and hobbies. Developing media literacy skills is crucial in today's media-saturated environment. Critically evaluating the content, we consume can help reduce the emotional toll of repeated exposure to traumatic events.


Four days later, I remember still. Four days ago, I watched a man die. His wife screamed. They replayed the video.


A man died on camera.

I watched a man die on TV.


“Traumavision” highlights the significant impact that repeated exposure to traumatic events on television can have on our mental health. By understanding these effects and adopting coping strategies, we can better protect ourselves from the potential negative consequences of constant media exposure. Remember, staying informed and taking care of your mental well-being is important. For those interested in learning more, consider reading books like "The Body Keeps the Score" by Bessel van der Kolk or articles on the psychological impact of media by reputable sources such as the American Psychological Association. 


If you or someone you know is struggling with anything relating to this, consider reaching out to mental health professionals or organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) for support and resources.

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