Can social media cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

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Number of crimes involving Facebook and Twitter rising in the UK

Hand holding a Social Media 3d SphereViewing violent content on social media websites could lead to the development of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a recent study has found. Dr Pam Ramsden from the University of Bradford studied over 180 people to see how they reacted after viewing violent and disturbing images on social media websites and found that a fifth of those respondents showed signs of PTSD.

Although a definite diagnosis of PTSD was not made, Dr Ramsden said that the symptoms were the same.

“If a particular person who scored high on the scale [used in the study] came into a GP’s office, we could easily diagnose them with PTSD, because they have the same symptoms,” she said.

Respondents were asked to fill out a questionnaire relating to different events of a violent or disturbing nature on social media, including school shootings and the 9/11 attacks. Results showed that 22 per cent were affected by these events, despite the fact that they had only viewed them online and were not directly involved in them.

At the time the study was released, Dr Ramsden spoke about how social media could be linked to PTSD, stating: “Social media has enabled violent stories and graphic images to be watched by the public in unedited horrific detail. Watching these events and feeling the anguish of those directly experiencing them may affect our daily lives. In this study we wanted to see if people would experience long lasting effects such as stress and anxiety, and in some cases post-traumatic stress disorders from viewing these images.”

She added that it was “quite worrying” that nearly a quarter of respondents who viewed the negative news and images showed high signs of PTSD and said that as access to social media and the internet has increased due to the prevalence of tablets and smartphones, “we need to ensure that people are aware of the risks of viewing these images and that appropriate support is available for those who need it.”

Walter Busuttil from the mental health charity Combat Stress commented on the study, stating: “This study is not saying that people develop PTSD. This study is saying that we can detect some symptoms that are measurable that are similar to PTSD.”


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