Kimberly Sanders, M.D.

Black Matters

Trauma, Trauma, Everywhere

Here's how to cope with racially and sexually based violence in the media.

Posted Oct 11, 2018

As the media coverage of sexual assault, police brutality and racial injustice continues, many of us have been challenged with the question of how to cope with the onslaught of images and stories of violent attacks. In the aftermath of this coverage, debates have raged and lines have been drawn between co-workers, friends, and even family, resulting at times in dismantling of our social circles. While this has been difficult and uncomfortable for most, for others it has also exacerbated symptoms related to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD may develop in some individuals after exposure to a traumatic event. This includes survivors of physical and sexual assault, abuse, car accidents, disasters, terror attacks, or other serious events. After the event symptoms include:

-Unwanted thoughts, nightmares or flashbacks related to the trauma

-Avoidance of things that remind a person of the trauma

-Feeling “on edge”, or in persistent “fight or flight” mode

-Feeling disinterested or guilty, or feeling like the world is not a safe place

Statistically, black women are more likely to experience multiple traumatic events over their lifetime (Roberts et al , 2012) and are more likely to be diagnosed with PTSD (Himle et al, 2009). In clinical practice I am noting a significant increase in PTSD symptoms exhibited by black women with a history of trauma; symptoms which they directly relate to the media coverage of the police shootings of blacks and sexual assault allegations.  What is being consistently represented is an assault on their personhood, either due to race, gender or both, creating a strong sense of fear and perpetuating the belief that the world is not a safe place for them.

Regardless of whether or not you have been diagnosed with PTSD, the following are a few suggestions for optimizing mental health in the current climate.

Tune In.

Tuning in is giving yourself a few minutes each day just to check in with yourself. This can be some quiet time, even if only for a few moments, to note how you are feeling. Meditation is a good form of tuning in, as is prayer.

It is during these moments, away from the demands of our day that you can actually see how you are coping. You may note during this time that feelings of anxiety or even panic arise. Or that media coverage intrusively interrupts your thought patterns. While spending time alone, accept these thoughts and feelings as just that-thoughts and feelings over which you ultimately have control. A growing body of research supports the use of mindfulness interventions, which include meditation, as a helpful intervention for managing stress and PTSD symptoms.

Shut it Off.

We all need a break at times, and I encourage you to have not only “social media fast”, but also take a break from news coverage. If you feel the need to be connected, follow a major news outlet periodically but limit your time. If there is a particular story that is causing feelings of intense distress (this may be more apparent after your “tune in” time), then it might be best to limit the amount of time you spend engaged with that particular story.

Call on your tribe.

Rally your people. The ones you know support you and are sensitive to your needs. Research suggests improvement in stress related symptoms for black women who actively engage social supports during time of crisis.

Photo by Luis Quintero from Pexels
Source: Photo by Luis Quintero from Pexels

However it is also common not to feel comfortable talking with people in your life about trauma you may have experienced. If you are diagnosed or believe you may be experiencing symptoms related to PTSD, linking with a mental health professional such as a therapist or psychiatrist can also be helpful.

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