Can Media Affect Mental Health?

Updated: Jun 3, 2020

Over the past few months, everyone has been stuck at home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. That means we've surfed the internet and social media like never before and binged like our lives depended on it. It leads me to wonder if all of this media clutter and noise has made us more fearful during these times, rather than enjoying the moment. Don't get me wrong, not being able to work is stressful, the uncertainty can weigh you down. What if it wasn't supposed to be this stressful? What if it's really stressful because of what you're watching or seeing online?

The impact of film and mass media has internal affects that many of us have yet to realize. In fact, spending hours with technology produces a numbing effect on our brains that causes us to be less empathetic and emotional (Christine Comaford, 2015). It's the desensitizing mechanism that has the potential to make us numb to the reality of sin and everyday life. Not only do we risk becoming numb to sin and God's will, but we impose negative mental health risks.

At Entertaining God Magazine, a large part of our content includes media ecology and media's moral effects on human beings. Media ecology is the study of media and technology and how they affect human environments. It's a theory study of Media Literacy, which is why we decided to do a mental health post about film and its traumatizing effects. Along to help us with this post is Licensed Therapist, Tiarra McKinney. She recently did a study about racial trauma in film and addressing re-traumatization. Below is an excerpt from her Master's level study.

' "Re-traumatization by film can have profound effects on one’s mental health and well-being. Some may ask, “Well it’s just a movie; can it really have that deep of an impact on someone’s mental health?” The answer to that question is, yes, it can.

When you are watching a movie or a show, your brain thinks the action on screen is happening to you. This is why you have to consciously tell your brain, “It is just a movie.” Our mirror neurons are part of the reason we cry during a sad part of a movie, laugh at jokes, and jump at a scary scene (Zacks, 2015). Our emotions are deeply impacted by watching film and media content. This raises the question: “What happens if we watch content that we have already experienced ourselves and was traumatizing in our real, present day life?”

How Can Films or Shows Re-traumatize Viewers?

Re-traumatization occurs when an event or the witnessing of an event elicits symptoms of a past trauma (Zgoda, Shelly, Hitzel, & 2016). Often, this process occurs when a memory is triggered and is brought back into the conscious mind. In this process, flashbacks may occur. According to trauma researchers, experiencing flashbacks of the past trauma can inhibit thought processes. This occurs when the person temporarily loses the ability to recognize that their present reality is safe and not threatening (Ogden, Minton, & Pain, 2006). The visceral physiological and psychological reaction, or the gut feeling, that can come from watching material is a symptom of re-traumatization.

Researchers have shown that re-traumatization by film and entertainment media can occur when watching depictions of violence, abuse, or neglect, especially if these traumas have been experienced. Often, individuals are not aware they are being re-traumatized in the moment of watching a film. These effects may not show up until after the viewing in most cases. The activity that exists within the brain as it relates to trauma is proven to be exponential in understanding how trauma effects one’s being holistically." ' (McKinney, 2019)

black therapists and mental health advocate Tiarra McKinney

Tiarra McKinney, MA, LPC, NCC, is currently a telehealth Therapist and Mental Health Advocate in the Greater Chicago area. With permission, she allowed us to share an excerpt of her Master's Level study on Racial Trauma in Film: How Viewers Can Address Re-traumatization. This study served as a powerful scientific source of how film and media affects our mental health. You can read the full study here which includes 5 things you can do if you experience re-traumatization in media and film.

IG: @therapywithtia


Christine Comaford. 2015. Is Technology Making Us Dumb & Numb?

Tiarra McKinney. 2019. Racial Trauma in Film: How Viewers Can Address Re-Traumatization.

#mentalhealthawareness #mediawatch #medialiteracy


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