Footage of planes exploding into skyscrapers, crumbling buildings and billowing dust clouds are all now indelibly etched into all of our psyches. It was a watershed moment for countries, world religions, and citizens the world over – and now it is right that due homage is paid for the lives wasted and suffering that resulted. For each of us, September 11th 2001 will hold different meanings.
But is repeated coverage of towers tumbling, bodies falling and people dying truly helpful? It may serve to educate the young and provoke solemnity within the rest of us – but continuous looped footage (as some news channels have opted for) accompanied by increasingly tenuous documentaries is possibly doing those who suffered that day a great disservice – and increasing their mental anguish…
The “September 11 Effect”
In 2001, there was no Twitter.
Facebook and ‘social networking’ didn’t exist either. So when news broke, it was on the Television. And shortly after 8.46 am on September 11, 2001 – it did.
For the first time, we could all watch – in horror and fascination – what skyscrapers look like when they collapse. In scenes reminiscent of the movie Independence Day, most US citizens (60%) used the TV to watch the action live.
A testimony to the power of televisual media, after September 11th 2001, most Americans underwent a shock reaction similar to having personally experienced a tragedy. Some went so far as to claim they suffered post traumatic stress disorder from the TV. Most psychiatrists say this is impossible. Others are speculating as to whether the definition of PTSD should now be broadened.
In the months and weeks that followed, Americans and people around the world tried to make sense of the destruction. Research shows that most people were unable to suitably reconcile the disaster. And when this search for meaning fails, it is normally replaced by fear (in this case fear of future terrorism).
Can Repeated 9/11 Footage be harmful?
We are privileged to live in a world where television, camera phones and the internet makes it possible to appreciate the significance and magnitude of national disasters from afar.
However, those who suffered firsthand the events of 9/11 face an extra challenge trying to move on with their life. Some things can help people come to terms with tragedy: a loving family, friends and a positive self-image.
Many things make it harder. Re-watching scenes on television is an important one. By watching TV footage revisiting a traumatic event – for most it hinders the mind’s normal healing process.
So spare a thought for those who those who suffered that day ten years ago.
Today may be a good day for them to turn the TV off…
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Updegraff, J., Silver, R., & Holman, E. (2008). Searching for and finding meaning in collective trauma: Results from a national longitudinal study of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95 (3), 709-722 DOI: 10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.529
Schuster MA, Stein BD, Jaycox L, Collins RL, Marshall GN, Elliott MN, Zhou AJ, Kanouse DE, Morrison JL, & Berry SH (2001). A national survey of stress reactions after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The New England journal of medicine, 345 (20), 1507-12 PMID: 11794216
Neria, Y., DiGrande, L., & Adams, B. (2011). Posttraumatic stress disorder following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks: A review of the literature among highly exposed populations. American Psychologist, 66 (6), 429-446 DOI: 10.1037/a0024791