What to Do When the News Triggers Mental Illness Symptoms

March 16, 2015 Becky Oberg

The news can be informative but news can also trigger your mental illness symptoms. Here's what to do if your mental illness symptoms are triggered by the news.

Does the news trigger your mental illness symptoms? I guess you could say early on there were signs I was going to be a reporter when I grew up--I read the newspaper as soon as I learned to read. Then, as today, there were some very disturbing things going on. I remember having a nightmare about the Neighborhood of Make-Believe being bombed when Reagan ordered the bombing of Libya. I never outgrew this, either--I am currently coping with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) flashbacks caused by the coverage of a high-profile rape case and a disgusting child abuse case. It made me wonder--what can I do when the news triggers my mental illness symptoms? Here are three ideas.

Limit Your News Exposure if It Triggers Mental Illness Symptoms

There's a joke that says "news" stands for "Negative Expression of What's Seen." And the news, especially television, tends to focus on the negative. As the newsroom saying goes, "If it bleeds, it leads." One solution is obvious--limit your news consumption if news triggers your mental illness symptoms. Turn off the TV. Skip the story with the depressing headline. Pretend that your inner child is a physical child and act accordingly. Protect yourself from news you know is going to trigger you. suggests:

Adults are sometimes surprised that their own reactions to a televised crisis are so strong, but great loss and devastation in the news often reawaken our own earlier losses and fears – even some we think we might have 'forgotten'.

It's easy to allow ourselves to get drawn into watching televised news of a crisis for hours and hours; however, exposing ourselves to so many tragedies can make us feel hopeless, insecure, and even depressed. We help our children and ourselves if we’re able to limit our own television viewing.

But as boxer Joe Lewis observed, "You can run, but you can't hide." Some exposure will happen, regardless of how hard you try to avoid it. I don't watch TV news or have a newspaper subscription, but I still hear negative news online (it doesn't help that I've friended the local paper on Facebook). That leads to tip number two.

Look for the Good in the News to Prevent Mental Illness Symptoms

My favorite Presbyterian minister, Mr. Rogers, had a wise mother. In The Mister Rogers Parenting Book, he wrote:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster', I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers--so many caring people in this world.

The news can be informative but news can also trigger your mental illness symptoms. Here's what to do if your mental illness symptoms are triggered by the news.When Hurricane Katrina hit, I was angry. The government botched the response, and it was in my living room. All that suffering got to me. Long story short, I decided to do something about it and caught a ride to Biloxi, Mississippi, with a random stranger from my parents' church. I saw the helpers for myself. I met a couple from Illinois who had cashed in their Las Vegas vacation to help out on a supply line. I met a caterer who was using his equipment to feed people the Red Cross couldn't feed. There were so many stories of people helping, and that helped me to cope with the suffering I saw.

Look for the helpers to help lessen mental illness symptoms.

Accept Yourself When the News Triggers Mental Illness Symptoms

Even if we wanted to, we don't have all the answers. We may not understand what is going on, or we may not be able to find someone to blame. That's okay. When the world seems out of control, the best thing we can do is accept ourselves.

Dr. Aphrodite Matsakis writes:

In addition to present-day stresses, media presentations on your type of trauma, or any kind of trauma, may serve as triggers. Furthermore, simply talking to others about your trauma, or listening to others talk about theirs, can serve as a trigger. As part of the healing process, you need at some point to write about, talk about, or draw pictures of the trauma. However, you may react to such disclosure with confusion, anger, or--even more painful--a profound sadness. Even once the healing process is complete, you may still feel that way when you share your story. This is as it should be. Something terrible happened to you. You can learn to live with it, but you cannot, and should not, wipe it away entirely. Along with the rest of your life experiences, it makes you who you are.

You may not be able to avoid the news triggering your mental illness symptoms, but you can fight back. Limit your exposure. Look for the helpers. Accept yourself.

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APA Reference
Oberg, B. (2015, March 16). What to Do When the News Triggers Mental Illness Symptoms, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Author: Becky Oberg

Mary Simmons
June, 15 2018 at 2:24 am

Great article. I struggle with this issue. I have found , after no news for 9 months, that when I looked at it again I realized the need makes little difference in my day to day life. It merely takes away from my family life, my gardening time, crafting time and other positive activities in my life.
Thank you.

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