Originally created 03/29/03

Experts say war coverage can be too much for some



For those who are already weary of the war, the Bush administration delivered the bad news that it is likely now months, not days, before it will end. But for those who feel as if the bombs are dropping on them, there are things you can do, local mental health providers said.

The impact of the war, with its unprecedented television access and coverage, is already being felt, particularly by veterans, said Diane S. Solursh, a clinical psychologist who sees many veterans.

"You see two very extreme responses: Either they can't turn the TV off and they're glued to it, or they don't want to hear about it at all," Dr. Solursh said. "Gulf war vets are having a hard time of it," she said.

The televised war images can have a powerful and, in some cases, irresistible impact, said Col. William S. Evans, the chief of mental health services at Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center.

"The impact that the media has through TV can be completely devastating," Col. Evans said. "You get folks that are focused in on what's going on, and they don't want to miss anything. Unfortunately, what they're actually doing is traumatizing themselves along the way, exposing themselves to all the bad events that are happening."

After a week, even people without ties to the war might be starting to build up stress from watching too much coverage, said psychologist Bernard Davidson, the director of family therapy training at the Medical College of Georgia.

"For the average person seeing this on TV, it is a chronic stressor," Dr. Davidson said. "After the first week, people are starting to get more reactive (to the stressor)."

That could result in irritability, or in some cases a "learned helplessness," the feeling that there is nothing you can do to prevent it, which adds stress of its own, Dr. Davidson said.

That can become worse as time goes on, as the response to learned helplessness might be an inability to make healthier changes, to turn off the TV, Dr. Davidson said. That can have a cumulative effect, Col. Evans said.

"If it (the war) was real short, then they're able to recuperate and get back on their own level ground," Col. Evans said. "But as it stretches longer and longer, there's the potential to just keep spiraling downward and become more and more affected."

Young children might not understand what is happening from the television but might pick up on how their parents are handling it, said Col. Evans, a child psychiatrist. Older children might understand but not be able to handle the impact of the images or the sometimes-conflicting claims, Col. Evans said. It might be better to limit their exposure to a single, regular program a night or to the newspaper, he said.

People who had misgivings about the war to begin with might find themselves with increased unease about the events, and about how things will turn out, Dr. Solursh said. The best thing to do is to try to maintain a normal routine and hope for a better outcome, she said.

"We need to get on with our lives and to not let this impact more than it has to," Dr. Solursh said.

HAD TOO MUCH?

For those who are war weary or can't seem to tear themselves away from the tube, there is help. The American Psychological Association and local mental health experts have some suggestions:

TURN IT OFF: Limiting exposure might help lower the anxiety and allow you to recover from the stress of the repeated images.

EXERCISE: Exercise can also help the body deal with the physical effects of the stress and help it return to its normal state. That is particularly true of exercise that carries you away from the television.

WAIT AND WATCH: Young children might pick up on how their parents are reacting to the war. If there is a problem, it might be better to watch the war news after they've gone to bed. For older children, it might be better to limit how much and how often they watch the war news, possibly a single regular segment a night.

LEND A HAND: Helping others can help restore your own sense of control over events and give you a better feeling about yourself.

PLAN: Planning an activity with friends and family can surround you with support and allow you to talk about concerns and fears, in addition to helping restore a sense of control.

CUT SOME SLACK: Not only might you be stressed, but others around you might be stressed. Cut yourself some slack, and give some slack to others who might be just as irritable as you.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tomc@augustachronicle.com.