At first, this might sound ridiculous. How could seeing something on a screen compare with, say, experiencing war at first hand? Such a claim is surely an insult to anybody who has suffered real-life trauma?
As discussion opened up around this, however, it became clear that the study was reporting a similarity to PTSD symptoms, which include anxiety, insomnia and mood changes. It also indicated that only those who repeatedly exposed themselves to such images or videos were at risk of long-term problems that might lead to a diagnosis of actual PTSD.
The study involved a group of just 189 people, so more research is needed, but this initial work has raised questions considered worthy of further investigation.
It was carried out by Dr Pam Ramsden, Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Bradford, who warned that 'natural worriers' were amongst those most likely to be negatively influenced by online material - if there's one thing OCD sufferers are, it's natural worriers!
She noted that a particular problem with social media was that images come up on screen without the kind of health warning that might be delivered by a continuity announcer or newsreader ahead of a violent film or distressing story. In fact, I've fallen victim to this myself twice, while on Facebook.
The first time, I was scanning the usual innocuous stories and photos posted by friends, when an image suddenly appeared of the aftermath of a car crash. I won't describe this, for obvious reasons, but the injuries to the four people who had died were extensive and graphically clear.
|Image courtesy of basketman/|
The same thing happened when a different friend commented on a photo of a murdered hostage; once again, the image haunted me for a long time.
When I discussed this with the friend concerned, he expressed surprise at my response, and said 'People need to know about these things.' I explained that I didn't need to see atrocities to be aware of them, and found it distressing just hearing about these terrible acts, let alone viewing the aftermath.
Whether such images are of accidents or of man's inhumanity against man, they're a reminder of how little control any of us actually has. As well as being upsetting, they can be triggering for people with OCD, who are on a constant quest for certainty.
Social media allows me to stay in touch with friends and connect with people around the world, so I'm not prepared to give it up, just to avoid the occasional upset. I wish, though, that those of a more robust nature than mine would think twice about what they share - albeit sometimes inadvertently - with the rest of us!