The dangers of disturbing videos: How to protect yourself and your family

Videos and images of the Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore have become ubiquitous in recent days and may cause strong emotions for some, but mental health professionals say there are some things you can do to help protect your mental health and deal with this tragedy in a healthy way.

“People can be vicariously traumatized by watching disaster videos over and over again, especially children and teenagers,” says Dr. George Everly, associate professor of psychiatry and assistant professor of public health at Johns Hopkins University.

For some people, witnessing an event that is particularly rare or out of the ordinary can be particularly traumatic and can trigger conflicting messages from different parts of the brain, such as the limbic system, which deals with memory and emotions such as fear and anxiety , opposite the prefrontal cortex, an area that processes facts and logic.

“Over time, the human brain gets used to everyday threats, but when something new and dramatic like this happens, it can go into survival mode, which is a protective mechanism,” Everly said. “But it’s important to slow down and look at the facts: let your brain see the numbers that show that this event, while spectacular and very tragic, is also extremely rare.”

For example, experts say it can be helpful to understand statistics. Between 1960 and 2015, there were only 35 bridge collapses worldwide, resulting in 342 deaths, compared to the 3,700 people who die each day in car crashes worldwide, according to 2018 reports from the World Association for Water Transport Infrastructure. and the World Health Organization.

“Also, try to resist the urge to find someone to blame,” Everly said. “This is the brain trying to make sense of something that, right now, doesn’t make sense, but ultimately it just accentuates the pessimism and doesn’t help us regain any control.”

Putting the bridge collapse in context for children and teenagers is also important, as “they may catastrophize the event in ways such as believing that it must happen all the time, or that bad things can happen to them or their parents,” says Dr Jyoti. Kanwar, a psychiatrist at the University of Maryland Medical Center and an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Reducing their exposure to images and videos by limiting screen time and talking openly with children about the events of the disaster are important first steps. Kanwar also recommends that parents show “comfort, support and resilience in the face of difficult situations as you go about your daily routine.”

The same advice goes for adults who may be tempted to rewatch the tragic video and worry about bridges in their own communities: try to limit your screen time, check the facts, and stick to your daily routines as much as possible, experts say. .

If feelings of worry or anxiety begin to affect well-being or daily functioning, Kanwar recommends talking to someone supportive about your fears and concerns.

“If you already have anxiety, talk to a psychotherapist to learn more strategies like exposure response prevention, cognitive behavioral therapy, developing mindfulness, and being grateful for all the wonderful things in life despite this event catastrophic,” Kanwar said.

Everly adds, “Don’t compromise your happiness or well-being on an event that is particularly tragic, but remarkably rare.”

Dr. Julie Kollar MD, MPH is the chief resident of the Johns Hopkins General Preventive Medicine Residency Program and a member of the ABC News Medical Unit.

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