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The Toxicity of Modern Media Coverage

As Mental Health Awareness month just came to a close and we now begin Pride month, our next focus is on the role the media plays on our mental health, and how it can overwhelm us. A recent study shows that witnessing mass shooting events played out over and over again in the media can impact an individual’s mental health. Some may feel that events such as mass shootings are targeted events that impact only those involved, however, studies show that is not the case.

As members of a society experiencing an unwavering increase in gun violence, it cannot be ignored that instead of helping to solve the problem, the media instead insights it. Additionally, as many celebrate Pride month, it can be overwhelming due to the constant coverage of crimes still being committed against members of the LGBTQ+ community and the constant attack on fundamental rights that include access to healthcare, and inclusive education. All of these issues continue to receive consistent media coverage and can paint a dire picture of hopelessness.

The Outrage

I still recall receiving the message about the Sandy Hook school shooting and how surreal it sounded. Then there was the Aurora Colorado movie theater shooting at a screening of one of my favorite films, Dark Knight. One can argue that both events forever changed how members of society go about their daily lives and how they combat fears. Children as young as 5 years old engaging in lockdown drill practices is not normal. It is also not normal for children, teens, and young adults growing up in some inner city areas to have to be escorted to school or kept home, out of fear that they may become a victim of a stray bullet meant for someone else.

Gun violence has become the number one killer of kids and teens, yet no one discusses the mental impact this has on the same group. Furthermore, no one discusses the impact this has on children coming from communities of color, or marginalized communities. We argue that resources are needed to prevent tragedies, however, resources are lacking for victims and those left behind that live in constant fear of the next gun shot. How do you counsel children or adults? Do we just continue to ignore these issues and expect others to act normal?

Almost two years ago a man opened fire on a crowded commuter train in NYC. After that incident, there was no counseling or acknowledgment, just the media sensationalizing an issue that further incited fear. Unprocessed fear and trauma is a harsh reality that many deal with on a daily basis. Most people riding the train that day were working class minorities from various backgrounds that do not have the luxury of not taking public transportation. So what do we as a society do, and how is the media helping?

The media now will warn you about graphic imagery but then go ahead and share the videos at an excessive pace. We must ask ourselves, is it necessary to constantly replay these images or videos? Some can argue the mere act of displaying graphic imagery can cause outrage for the victims' families. Others are more concerned about the traumatic impact this can have and the reasoning for repeatedly showing graphic videos or imagery.

When the world lost George Floyd, the media repeatedly showed Mr. Floyd taking his last breath. Most recently, the media showed the brutal beating and killing of Tyree Nichols. Both situations not only caused outrage but also undue mental stress and trauma for some. The impact of repeatedly seeing this imagery on communities of color in particular is alarming. It goes unchecked and most times unacknowledged. Children, teens, and young adults have to deal with this daily as violence has become embedded in almost all facets of culture and entertainment in today’s society.

The constant attack on people who identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community is further incited with media coverage. One can argue that these reports do little to direct attention toward those behind the scenes working to regain rights for the community. Instead of highlighting the negativity, why not highlight the warriors and advocates constantly pushing back on the false narratives and demanding that rights stop being stripped away. The media often goes dark in depicting true crimes that are being committed daily against this community as well as transgender women.

The Resolution

Instead of the media focusing on profit over resolution, we as the viewers need to stop tuning in until the narrative shifts. We must question why the media now leans toward showing the graphic imagery with little to no solutions along with it. We know as long as there is an increase in ratings, there is an increase in advertising dollars. We must hold the media accountable for the role it plays in inciting violence and in highlighting differences instead of tolerance. It can become toxic to indulge in the media without any safe guards. We can not ignore the trigger warnings.

As the world rejoices that the COVID-19 pandemic is allegedly over, can it really be over for those who saw as many as 1,000 people die daily knowing that those numbers represented loved ones? What happened to that media coverage, or all the lives impacted by the loss? There were no resources shared for people across most media platforms, and the ones that did share were often either public access or less traditional media outlets.

The way to avoid the undue burdens of mental stress the media can inflict is to limit your access. It is always your choice to turn away from the violent imagery. It is your right to demand positive stories to contradict the negative. It is also your right to speak up and let media outlets know that enough is enough and not to sensationalize one family or person’s pain just to sell a story. Know your tolerance level, and the next time you tune into your favorite media outlet, perhaps skip to the weather, sports, entertainment, or “good news” section of the broadcasts instead.

If you prefer print media, skip to the good news and ignore the doom and gloom headlines. Making even these small adjustments can help to shed tons of negativity and stress related anxiety. Bad news always sells, however, good news always heals. Remember this the next time you choose to tune in to your local news.


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