Blog, PTSD

PTSD BY PROXY

I don't think it's an understatement to say that the terrorists attacks in Paris in 2015 have been an horrendous example of terrorism and how it can find a way to our door, even when uninvited. We're not just talking about the attacks in Paris on Friday 13th that claimed the lives of so many innocent people, but those on the Charlie Hebdo offices earlier in the year. It's been a traumatic time for the city of love.

With the possible exception of quick-on-the-draw graphics designers, these terrorist attacks have been an awful experience for everyone. Not just those directly affected by them, but the world at large who played witness to the aftermath displayed by the world's media on our TV screens and ordinary people who were 'Tweeting' their feelings for all the world to see, well those on Twitter anyway!

The number of hashtags that were being used meant that the mood of the Twitter-verse was clear. From #porteouverte being used by those needing shelter from the unfolding chaos to the more general, but equally heartfelt #ParisAttacks, #PrayForParis and my personal favourite #TerrorismHasNoReligion. There was more trauma occurring that people could cope with...and maybe that's a problem we haven't quite recognised.

It may well be too early to fully understand the impact these attacks have on those affected, but that doesn't mean the world can't share the aftermath too. A trauma on this scale, a trauma shown in almost realtime around the world on TV and across social media means that the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder is very real.

PTSD can affect people experiencing any sort of trauma. You don't have to be there in the thick of it to be affected. Could seeing the violence and disturbing content unfold on your TV, smartphone or tablet before your very eyes prove to be a risk to developing PTSD? I don't know, but I know someone who does!

A recent study by Dr. Pam Ramsden, a researcher at the University of Bradford, surveyed 189 people and studied their reactions to a range of events (taken before the November attacks in Paris). By looking at graphic images, more than a fifth of those who responded scored highly against the clinical measures of PTSD. Bear in mind that none of these people were actually directly affected by any of the incidents. They were merely looking at images across social media. This phenomena is known as second-hand or vicarious PTSD and is common among police officers, paramedics, etc.

It's important to stress that none of the people affected were clinically diagnosed with PTSD as a result of seeing the images, but they showed measurable symptoms. What would happen if the effects continued? What do you think a Doctor would say if they described their symptoms? What do you think they'd be diagnosed with? It's an interesting thought at least.

As social media plays an ever-increasingly large part in our day-to-day lives, the next gruesome image or shocking video can invade our timelines without warning. The news media can offer guidelines against graphic images, but Twitter, Facebook and even YouTube don't give us that courtesy.

We're all potential cameramen and women when tragedy strikes. That HD camera on our phones can show the larger world, our small world in seconds, yet too many people would rather film an incident, than stop and help those affected, so we may be oblivious to the next terrible event. Social media also lacks the context of mainstream media, so you may not be watching what it appears to be. 

So the next time you're sharing something the world has thrown at us, just think twice about it. We're absolutely not saying you'll give anyone PTSD, but things affect people differently and your posts may intrude on people in ways you may not have envisaged. Oh and if you are going to film something, hold the phone horizontally!