Vicarious trauma is increasingly being experienced by people because of social media. Social media makes content easily accessible, but also curates our feeds to engage our attention for long periods of time – this can be useful if someone enjoys harmless, fun content like cat videos, but can be detrimental for an individual obsessed with news and current events. Vicarious trauma among individuals is increasing not only from reading and hearing news surrounding natural disasters, which are becoming more frequent as a result of the climate crisis, but from learning of the terrorist attacks that are occurring daily. As we understand and process these events, we find that media has evolved massively to track them and dish them up on a platter. Social media is an example of this, but specific sites have even been created for us to consume these events.
The Christchurch terror attacks of March 15 taught us that even small, isolated countries like New Zealand are becoming targets for extremists who disagree with progressive change. Since the beginning of June we have seen attacks in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo kill hundreds of people. As we are bombarded with news of events like this everyday we cannot simply shut it off, as disaster and terror are topics of conversation in schools, universities, social spaces, and workplaces. This incites anxiety and obsession in individuals as a result of vicarious trauma that we all face from over-consumption of news of these types of events. This is a new problem, as news and media is so entangled in our society now, which requires innovative and creative solutions. However, this will not be a quick fix, as our brains have become conditioned to seek out these traumas in an obsessive and unhealthy way. So we must ask ourselves whether the negative impact that these news events have on our mental health is worth our sociocultural and political views, and reevaluate the extent to which we need to understand, digest, and consume news of these increasingly frequent events.
But we must also ask ourselves what we can and must do in a local, national, and international sense to solve these deep-seated global issues. Doing so would not only increase people’s mental health, but would also drive fewer people to commit these violent acts. Together, we can collectively change practices and resolve pressing international problems. Maybe in this sense vicarious trauma can be useful, as it shows us the impact events have on everyone but also the need to change our circumstances. As Ghandi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”