Should We Be Watching Traumatic Images on TV?

Studies have shown that viewing the events of 9/11 on television can increase the risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
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On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, countless television channels will be airing replays of the traumatic events of that day. It is in your best interest, psychologically, not to watch that coverage.

When you watch disturbing events, such as 9/11, on television, you can experience feelings of anxiety, despair and panic, all while sitting in the comfort of your living room. You feel a sense of helplessness because you are witnessing events that you are not able to control or help resolve. Watching repeated television coverage of the planes hitting the towers, people falling from buildings and seeing endless human suffering can trigger the same feelings of helplessness you experienced 10 years ago. In fact, in some cases, watching replays of the events of 9/11 can make you feel even worse than you did back then. Ten years ago, you most likely experienced shock, which is a way our mind protects us from additional psychological trauma. Ten years later, you will be watching the replays of 9/11 without that psychological buffer. It may feel like time has healed some of those wounds, but as you watch television, you may find that healing being dismantled.

If you were directly involved in the events of 9/11, watching repeated television coverage may cause flashbacks -- experiencing feelings and events just like you are back there again. If you do experience flashbacks, let a trusted friend or relative know. Also contact your local crisis center or a mental health clinician if you are impaired by flashbacks. If you are experiencing any feelings of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or find them online at

Studies have shown that viewing the events of 9/11 on television can increase the risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, hypervigilance (heightened awareness of one's surroundings), irritability, distressing dreams, efforts to avoid feelings about a traumatic event, avoiding places associated with a traumatic event, a feeling of detachment (not connecting with others, difficulty expressing a range of feelings) and not expecting to have a long lifespan.

In a study by Ahern, et al. (2004), people who viewed more television images of the attacks in the seven days after 9/11 had a higher probability of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The people who viewed the most television images had 2.32 times greater odds of probable PTSD. The authors wrote, "Television may merit consideration as a potential exposure to a traumatic event."

Not only do adults experience feelings of trauma from viewing 9/11 events on television, children also experience these feelings. In a study by Otto, et al. (2007), the amount of time children spent viewing 9/11 coverage on television predicted an increased risk of PTSD symptoms. The authors wrote, "Media viewing of tragic events is sufficient to produce PTSD symptoms in vulnerable populations such as children."

You can still remember or honor the memory of the lives we lost on 9/11 and reflect on how our lives changed that day without watching replays on television. You can be involved in a ceremony of remembrance or gather with others to talk about how your life was changed. These activities can be cathartic and healing. Watching repeated images of that day's events can actually cause you more harm.

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