Being exposed to videos of police killings can lead to symptoms of PTSD : NPR

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People attend a candlelight vigil Thursday in memory of Tire Nichols at Tobey Skate Park in Memphis, Tenn.

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People attend a candlelight vigil Thursday in memory of Tire Nichols at Tobey Skate Park in Memphis, Tenn.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Footage of the moments leading up to the death of Tire Nichols, for which five Memphis police officers were charged, expected to be released later Friday.

Monnica Williams, a clinical psychologist and expert on race-based trauma, said videos containing violence and death are incredibly stressful and should be taken lightly.

“Seeing things happen like that to other people from your community in general can have some traumatizing effects, especially if you’re part of a stigmatized minority group that often deals with this kind of trauma,” Williams told NPR.

Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, was badly beaten after he was pulled over on suspicion of reckless driving on January 7th. He died in hospital three days later.

Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis said the recordings, which include body cam, dash cam and other surveillance footage, will be made public for transparency reasons sometime after 7 pm ET Friday. But she warned that the incident was “heinous, random and inhuman”.

Here are some helpful reminders on how to cope.

Remember, you don’t have to watch the video to stay informed about the case

Williams’ main advice is not to watch the videos if you can.

“That’s really the message I want people to have: Don’t see them,” she said. “If you want to see it, you should ask yourself, why do I want to see this?”

She understands that some people may be obligated to watch it, depending on their job or connection to the case, but for the vast majority of people, violent videos tend to do more harm than good.

Williams added that there are other ways to stay informed about the case without watching videos or graphic images, which tend to have a stronger effect on the mind than simply reading an article about it.

“These videos are not good for your mental health and they don’t make us a better society,” Williams said.

Before releasing the footage, check with yourself

In anticipation of the video and the descriptions surrounding it, Williams encourages people to pause to assess how much information they can handle.

“Anxious or stressed or nervous? These can be good signs that you want to take it easy and maybe you don’t need to see it,” she said.

Williams also recommends digesting news and content in moderation depending on how they feel.

“People can wait until they feel ready. They don’t have to do it now,” she said. “Or they may decide they only want a small amount of information about what happened.”

Signs of stress and trauma can appear immediately or in a few weeks

People can experience forms of post-traumatic stress disorder from watching distressing videos, Williams said. Those symptoms include difficulty sleeping, having recurring images in your mind, or feeling irritable, restless or moody.

Sometimes, those symptoms don’t appear until later.

Williams pointed to a 2018 study in The Lancet about police killings and their side effects on the mental health of Black Americans. The research showed that Black people continued to be affected by a fatal encounter between the police and an unarmed Black person months after they first heard about it.

Feeling numb can also be a sign of trauma and should be taken as seriously as other symptoms, Williams added.

Always on people you can trust and can relate to how you are feeling

One of the best ways to deal with this type of trauma is to talk to other people.

“You have conversations with people who get it and who will be a source of support and comfort,” Williams said.

It is also important to “rebalance your sense of equilibrium”, by taking time out of the office, going for a walk or a drive and spending time away from the news cycle and social media, she added she says.

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