THE BLOG

Trauma And Social Media: When Black Death Goes Viral

26/09/2016 16:57
Scott Olson via Getty Images

This morning I woke up and went on social media like most of us now do, and my attention was immediately caught by an article headline "When black death goes viral, it can trigger PTSD-like trauma" by Kenya Downs. Thank you Kenya.

The main points in the article, for those who won't go and read it are as follows:

  • Research suggests that for people of colour, frequent exposure to the shootings of black people can have long-term mental health effects. According to Monnica Williams, clinical psychologist and director of the Center for Mental Health Disparities at the University of Louisville, graphic videos (which she calls vicarious trauma) combined with lived experiences of racism, can create severe psychological problems reminiscent of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

  • "There's a heightened sense of fear and anxiety when you feel like you can't trust the people who've been put in charge to keep you safe. Instead, you see them killing people who look like you," she says. "Combined with the everyday instances of racism, like microaggressions and discrimination, that contributes to a sense of alienation and isolation. It's race-based trauma."
  • While research on the psychological impact of racism has only emerged within the last 15 years, Williams says it's "now starting to get the attention that it deserves" and experts are "seeing very strong, robust and repeated negative impacts of discrimination."
  • A 2012 study found that black Americans reported experiencing discrimination at significantly higher rates than any other ethnic minority. The study, which surveyed thousands of African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans, also found that blacks who perceived discrimination the most, were more likely to report symptoms of PTSD. Although African-Americans have a lower risk for many anxiety disorders, the study reported a PTSD prevalence rate of 9.1 percent in blacks, compared to 6.8 percent in whites, 5.9 percent in Hispanics, and 1.8 percent in Asians.
  • Social media and viral videos can worsen the effects. During the week of Sterling's and Castile's deaths, a scroll through timelines of black social media users could uncover subtle expressions of mental and psychological anguish, from pleas for others not the share these videos, to declarations of a social media hiatus. Williams says that's not unusual. These expressions of anger, sadness and grief can hint at something much more serious.
  • Now there are some more points that I feel need to be explored from a UK perspective and what it is like being Black in Britain and still having to see these images. Many people dismiss the effect black death in America, especially by the hands of the police, has on the Black community in the UK and especially on our inner-city youth.

    Please also remember, although the majority of the world may have seen the edited versions of the death of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile (as only two examples) on the news, those on social media saw these murders raw, without warning and without any emotional or mental protection.

    We recently have seen the footage of the ample named PC Savage smashing a car windscreen after a young black man refused to leave the vehicle over here in good ol' London. I've seen a few comments like "if the young man was not guilty, why did he not just get out the car" or the one I love the most "well he isn't helping himself acting like that" but see, things are not that simple.

    Having PTSD or suffering from trauma like the aforementioned, will put the mind into a state of hyper vigilance and paranoia. If you have watched extremely graphic videos of police killing someone who looks like you, then the police, to a mind that is traumatised, do become a threat (not to dismiss in some cases are a threat). Also to the traumatised human unconscious, there is not a difference between the UK and the US police force, in fact there is also not much difference between good and bad police officers.

    When we perceive a threat, we act as if threatened, that is what trauma does. So we in the UK must also be mindful of the impact black death on social media is having in our communities and especially on our youth, who's minds have not fully developed yet and are now having to deal with these graphic videos and the vicarious trauma that can accompany them.

    This is a huge issue and one we cannot afford to ignored because trauma needs to be treated and healed, if it does not it can lead to more violence through trauma reenactment, substance misuse and mental health issues.

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