Media Participation and Mental Health in Terrorist Attack Survivors

Thoresen, S., Jensen, T. K., & Dyb, G. (2014). Media Participation and Mental Health in Terrorist Attack Survivors. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 27(6), 639-646. doi:10.1002/jts.21971

Terrorism and disasters receive massive media attention, and victims are often approached by reporters. Not much is known about how terror and disaster victims perceive the contact with media and whether such experiences influence mental Health.

In this study, we describe how positive and negative experiences with media relate to posttraumatic stress (PTS) reactions among survivors of the 2011 Utøya Island terrorist attack in Norway. Face-to-face interviews were conducted with 285 survivors (47.0% female and 53.0% male) 14–15 months after the terrorist attack. Most survivors were approached by reporters (94%), and participated in media interviews (88%). The majority of survivors evaluated their media contact and participation as positive, and media participation was unrelated to PTS reactions. Survivors who found media participation distressing had more PTS reactions (quite distressing: B = 0.440, extremely distressing: B = 0.611, p = .004 in adjusted model). Perceiving media participation as distressing was slightly associated with lower levels of social support (r = –.16, p = .013), and regretting media participation was slightly associated with feeling let down (r = .18, p = .004). Reporters should take care when interviewing victims, and clinicians should be aware of media exposure as a potential additional strain on victims.