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Violent News? Turn It Off

Photo by Maʝicdölphin

Mass killings dominated the media this weekend with a string of shootings in the United States following just hours after a murderous rampage in Oslo. Some of the violence since Friday included:

A local psychotherapist says the deluge of grim news can be a trigger for people already trying to cope with grief. For those with a history of trauma, mental illness or personal losses, it can actually be harmful, according to two local experts.
“If we’re still feeling really intensely about a particular loss in our lives, and then this media exposure comes along, it can really destabilize us,” said Dr. Allyson Jervey, an Austin psychotherapist who also teaches at the University of Texas School of Social Work.

Her first line of advice? Avoid the news. 

“People like me, who work with trauma and grief all the time, I definitely avoid the news,” she said.

Dr. Barbara Jones agrees. She’s the co-director of UT’s Institute for Grief, Loss, and Family Survival.

“In our current society, you can get lots of images that can be quite triggering for anyone,” she said.

Dr. Jervey says talking about your feelings with someone can also be a “great way to manage difficult experiences.” For those who don’t like to talk, she suggests creative expressions like art, producing music, or writing in a journal. Exercise can also help people cope with unpleasant emotional experiences.

And it doesn’t matter if someone’s loss is similar to the traumatic events unfolding in the news, Dr. Jones said.

“Those images and those experiences and the discussion of those very intense emotions can retrigger people,” she said. “It’s not surprising at all to have that occur.”

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.