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DODGEN


Large-scale or distressing events such as the shooting on the Umpqua Community College campus are closely monitored by many people, young and old, on television or the radio or through social media.

Frequently media coverage focuses on the most dramatic — and therefore most frightening — images. Watching or listening to the saturating news coverage or frequently monitoring social media about traumatic events could cause you and others in your family increased stress and emotional distress.

Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to these kinds of negative emotions if limits are not placed on seeing upsetting images and hearing graphic stories.

For very young children (roughly age 8 and under), repeated images of an event on the television may be interpreted as the event happening again and again. Young children may not have the cognitive or verbal skills to either understand what they see or hear or to ask questions to help them make sense of what is truly happening. Listening to the news in the background and unsupervised can be just as stressful for children and should be minimized.

Evidence also suggests that adults with pre-existing mental health conditions or prior trauma histories may be more vulnerable to the stressful effects of viewing coverage of emergency events or disasters.

However, there are steps you can take to minimize the potentially negative effects of media coverage while also staying current on what is happening in your neighborhood and the world around you.

For children and young children:

n Refrain from letting children, especially young children, watch coverage of traumatic events.

n If children do consume news about the event, be sure to watch or listen with them and discuss what is being seen and heard and be open to answering questions.

n Misunderstandings frequently emerge for young children, so being available for them to correct information and provide support can go a long way to helping them feel safe and cared for.

n If you do not know the answer, that is okay and you should tell your child that. If you feel you can get the answer, let your child know and then make sure to foll ow up.

n Comfort children with hugs and reminders that they are safe and that the people who are in charge are working to resolve the situation and to help people who were directly impacted by the event.

For adults:

n Put some limits on your own media consumption, including social media. Pay attention to your feelings and thoughts and end your viewing or reading when you recognize that you have met your limit. Try not to watch televised coverage right before going to bed, as distressing images could disrupt your sleep or dreams.

n Recognize the signs of stress in yourself and your family and talk with someone about how you are feeling. If you have seen graphic images or disturbing photos and video and are upset, or if learning about an event has brought up feelings about your own trauma history, reach out to a friend, family member or a mental health professional. If you want help connecting with a professional in your community, contact the National Disaster Distress Helpline (1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746.) Share this number with friends and family as a resource.

n Utilize healthy coping strategies to manage the distress, such as talking with someone, getting plenty of exercise and sleep and eating healthy foods

Emergencies are stressful. By taking some simple steps, like being careful about our own exposure and that of our loved ones to the overwhelming coverage of traumatic events, we can reduce the emotional distress for ourselves and our families.

Daniel Dodgen, Ph.D., serves in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. Dodgen is a licensed clinical psychologist in Washington, D.C., who specializes in the child psychology and the behavioral health impacts of disasters.

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