Dr. Helen

Yes, the Media Really Is the Problem

Former FBI agent Josh Campbell, now CNN law enforcement analyst.

As I watch the events unfolding around the country with the recent synagogue shooting, the bomb packages, and other dangerous activity, I can’t help but reflect on what I have learned over the course of my career as a psychologist and student of human behavior: the daily barrage of damaging news we hear everyday is not good for the human psyche. Even this article at CNN seems to agree (though not necessarily for the right reasons):

(CNN) With every news alert or breaking story, our world seems to be pushed further and further into crisis. It is taking a serious toll on our environment but also on our mental health. …

This is your brain on disaster
Our brains are hardwired to process stress relating to trauma by entering what is known as “fight, flight, freeze” mode before returning to a restful state, explained Susanne Babbel, a psychotherapist specializing in trauma recovery. However, constant exposure to trauma can derail our ability to cope healthily and hinder our ability to return to a relaxed state.
“Every time we experience or hear about a traumatic event, we go into stress mode. We might go numb or have an overactive fear response to the perceived threat. Our physiology is triggered to release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline,” Babbel said.
Ideally, after the perceived threat is resolved, the body’s resting state of homeostasis should be regained. However, recurrent exposure to traumatic events means the body is undergoing this process far more frequently than ever, interrupting this restful recovery.

The CNN article seems to think that the environment is being harmed and that watching the disasters is pushing people to the brink, but the real disaster is the way they cover people they disagree with. Every time the media calls their enemies (that would be us libertarians and Republicans) names or blames events on them, it works in two different way to cause upheaval.

First, it makes those of the liberal persuasion feel like we are their enemy and makes them hate us even more than they already do; and second, it makes the people who they are castigating feel frustrated, angry or both. This psychological dynamic serves to keep people distant from and mistrustful of one another and for those who are mentally ill and isolated, it can spell a real disaster. If our brains are hardwired to fight, flee, or freeze in response to trauma, then there will be a variety of responses to the news and the negativity. My surprise is that there are so few of these terrible incidents, not that there are so many.

The goal of the media should be to report and educate, not to agitate, but in a world where ratings are more important than the lives of the public, it probably won’t happen.