How does the media coverage of terrorism make me feel?

Thu 15 June 2017


How does the media coverage of terrorism make me feel?


 by Chris Ishizuka
Psychotherapist and Social Worker


Watching the coverage of the acts of terrorism in London I couldnʼt help but feel horrified, worried, upset, anxious, and apprehensive about the world we live in. Does this sound familiar to you?

Research since the 90s has shown that people who consume media coverage of terrorist incidents can be dramatically impacted. Additionally, it has been shown that there appear to be strong links between the media sensationalisation of terror and psychological consequences for audiences.  Responses to being exposed to images of terrorism can include distress, shock, fear, avoiding public places, anger, and pain. People have also been shown to experience an increase in symptoms of major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), general stress, and feelings of anxiety or anger. Increased consumption has been shown to lead to higher rates of distress. A national survey of adults in the United States following the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks showed that those who watched the most television coverage in the days following suffered the most increased stress scores .

For those who already suffer from the effects of trauma, research has shown that the number of referrals to mental health services increases. Those who were close to somebody who was killed in a terrorist attack state that that media coverage was harmful to their ability to heal. All negative effects have been shown to be worse for children.

How can I remain calm?

Critical Awareness

Becoming aware of the affects the media has on your experience of terrorism in itself should help to lessen the psychological impacts. If we are able to stand back from our immediate reactions and observe ourselves consuming media coverage, we can begin to see how the media coverage itself makes us feel. We might be able to notice how the testimonies of witnesses to the incident or the reports of those who were killed or injured affect the way we feel. If we can observe journalists and broadcasters who work in the media in this way, we can begin to understand how they might be feel while they cover these incidents. Many networks will make time for ‘specialʼ news coverage that continues far outside of their normal broadcasting schedule. As people who work in the media endure longer and longer shifts bringing ‘rolling media coverageʼ of a terror incident it is small wonder that they become preoccupied and lose sight of life outside of the broadcast studio. As consumers of the news, we in turn are affected by the way media personnel feel about what they are reporting on.



As the cartoon above suggests – turn the tv off, put your smartphone away, close your laptop, jump off your couch, and head outside!

How do I manage my Children’s thoughts and feelings?

Children have a limited understanding of the world and how dangerous or safe they should feel about it. Their limited cognitive development prevents them from being able to observe their own reactions to media portrayals of terror.

The Australian Psychological Society on their extensive page suggest that primary school-aged children will likely hear about terrorism from their peers, other adults, or through the media. The APS recommends parents check in with children about what they understand about the facts and gauge if they are affected by them. Parents are encouraged to reassure children of the safety of the world they live in and to feel comfortable in asking questions about terrorism if they come up. Parents of children younger than primary school-age are advised to limit exposure to media portrayals of terrorism or adult conversations they cannot understand.

Presumably aimed at parents of primary school-aged children and older, a British children’s bereavement charity called Winston’s Wish put out statements following both the Westminster attack and the recent London Bridge/Borough Market attacks.

Seek help

If you or someone close to you feels triggered by media portrayals of terror you can contact the usual channels of assistance such as your GP, mental health assistance lines, or your usual therapist.

Mental Health Access Line : 1800 011 511
Beyond Blue : 1300 22 4636
LifeLine: 13 11 14

Chris Ishizuka is a social worker and psychotherapist and has worked with people experiencing crisis and complex mental health problems.
Chris is available for appointments by contacting Therapeutic Axis on 02 9692 9788.

References :
Australian Psychological Society (2017) Guidelines for talking with children about terrorism terrorism/
Hamblen, J. (2017) The Effects of Media Coverage of Terrorist Attacks on Viewers traumatic-events.asp
McElroy, D. (2017) Best way to fight terror? Turn off your TV and get back to real life
Offman, P., Mastria, M., Steinberg, J. (1995) Mental health response to terrorism: The World Trade Center bombing. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, v17 n3 p312-20 Jul 1995
Shoshani, A. and Slone, M. (2008) The Drama of Media Coverage of Terrorism : Emotional and Attitudinal Impact on the Audience, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 31j7, 627-640,
DOI: 10.1080/10576100802144064
Stitt (2017) Terrorism media coverage playing into extremists’ hands, academic warns helping-terrorists-academic-warns/8381780
Winstonʼs Wish (2017) Responding to children affected by the media coverage of the incident in Westminster coverage-incident-westminster/