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Media barrage from war causes stress

Children could also be affected if their viewing isn't monitored or if the images are not explained by adults, according to psychologists.

india Updated: Apr 08, 2003 21:24 IST

Psychologists say watching the 24-hour TV coverage of war in Iraq could be damaging the physical and mental health of some viewers, causing stress, sleepless nights, stomach pains and guilt in extreme cases.

Children could also be affected if their viewing isn't monitored or if the images are not explained by adults, according to psychologists interviewed by Reuters in several countries around the world.

The coverage of the war in Iraq has been the most extensive and vivid of any conflict, with live reports from journalists travelling with troops or based in Iraqi cities.

Michael Nuccitelli, psychologist and director of SLS Health, a clinic in Brewster, New York, said the coverage was addictive, like watching live sport on television.

"We are getting a blow by blow account," Nuccitelli said. "It's almost like watching a football game. It makes the viewer want to watch even more."

"That increases the visual imagery and is naturally going to kick up stress and anxiety," he added.

German psychologist Hildegard Adler said she had seen patients disturbed by the pictures, feeling fear or guilt, and insisted seemingly stable or unscarred people were not immune.

"We are all sensitive to a greater or lesser degree," she said.

Patricia Saunders, a psychologist and director of Manhattan Mental Health Centresaid many people were not aware they are under increased stress.

"Our bodies express emotions too. People are having more headaches, stomach aches. I think there's an increase in minor kinds of infections. Stress suppresses the immune system."


Children could be affected by the reaction of adults close to them as much as by what they watch themselves, experts say.

"You don't know if you are suddenly going to see a picture on TV of women and children killed and you don't know what the impact on a child would be," said Friedhelm Lamprecht, director of psychosomatics and psychotherapy at Hanover Medical School.

He recommends not letting under sevens watch the war at all and would not allow under 14s to watch alone, instead seeking their thoughts and reassuring them afterwards.

Rita El-Khayat, a specialist in child psychology in Casablanca, Morocco, says she is reminded of her own childhood when Morocco was seeking independence from France.

"I felt that the adults were frightened, and that is very frightening for a child, because adults are supposed to be your protectors," she said.

She is concerned now that not all parents will do enough to explain the events to their children and believes the images may produce or reinforce anti-American and anti-Western sentiment.

"What people in the US don't realise is that this war is creating a generation of potential terrorists," she said.

Tony Flint, regional coordinator for Britain's Gulf Veterans and Families' Association, said the coverage had brought back many uncomfortable memories and made many veterans depressed.

"When I've heard soldiers shout 'Gas!', my immediate reaction is to freeze or put my hand down to find a respirator."

Some studying mental health believe the vivid pictures of war could stir our own violent instincts or lead to growing ambivalence to the suffering of others.

"It can incite the brutal and aggressive instinct embedded in human nature...As people are frequently exposed to violence, they become increasingly insensible to it," said Min Sung-gil, a psychiatrist at Seoul's Shinchon Severance Hospital.

The experts are unanimous in their advice to counter the stress -- stop watching.

"People really need to limit media exposure, especially TV. Keep it to one or two brief check-ins during the day. Do not leave the TV on for long periods of time," said Saunders.

First Published: Apr 08, 2003 21:24 IST