Boston Marathon Bombing Tragedy: PTSD Triggers from Watching the News


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PTSD responds to both internal and external events: Image by USAG-Humphreys

Can you get PTSD just from watching the news during a tragedy like the Boston Marathon bombing situation?

Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome affects victims of many types of trauma-rape, war, auto accidents, and domestic violence among them.  What happens when a person who already suffers from PTSD is exposed to trauma vicariously, rather than first-hand?  Research indicates that many events, both internal and external, can trigger what the Vietnam Veteran’s Association of Australia terms “the re-experiencing phenomena.”

Tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombings, the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, and even television reports of ricin-laced letters may trigger a strong response in those already suffering with PTSD, in addition to inflicting the disorder on new victims of the events.

Symptoms of PTSD

Symptoms of PTSD include not only flashbacks, but also tension, agitation, sleep disturbances, withdrawal, depression, irritability, mood swings, anxiety, and substance abuse. Flashbacks, also known as ‘re-experiencing’ can occur in response to internal or external triggers.

  • Internal Triggers: The United States War Veteran’s PTSD Foundation’s website notes that feelings of anger, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, frustration, lack of control, pain, muscle tension or a racing heart are possible internal triggers for intrusive memories, hyper-vigilance or emotional distress.  Internal triggers are dependent upon the inner thoughts or feelings of the victim; external events also trigger re-experiencing.
  • External Triggers: Some of the common triggers for re-experiencing include movement, crowds, open spaces, loud sounds according to the  Vietnam Veteran’s Association of Australia. More subtle triggers can include hearing or reading about trauma, and even watching fictional television shows about traumatic events. Noise, confusion, and presence of military and police personnel create the type of external environment that not only causes PTSD, but can make previous PTSD experiences resurface.

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