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TELEVISION AND STRESS
 
 
Shahina Maqbool
Monday, June 11, 2012
From Print Edition
 
 

 

Islamabad

 

Indirect exposure to traumatic events through television is leading to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among people in Pakistan, making PTSD an important public health concern in the country.

 

Evidence from research conducted by the Department of Psychiatry of the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, in collaboration with the South Hampton University, UK, and recently published in a prestigious international journal, indicates that 100 (20.2%) of the 494 participants included in a household survey conducted in Islamabad between January-April 2009, reported experiencing real-life trauma during the last 12 months and 172 (34.8%) during their lifetimes. Nearly half (45.3%) of those who experienced real-life trauma and watched TV scored positive for PTSD, compared with one-fifth (20.8%) of those who only watched traumatic events on TV. Further analyses in this later group found that cases were statistically more likely to have higher rates of depression and disability and to live in joint family system.

 

The survey, which was conducted to study the effects of watching news of violence on people, involved use of the electoral register. Participants were asked about their experience of real-life trauma, in addition to watching violence on TV.

 

Data were available for 494 participants for analyses. All participants reported watching TV for more than one hour per day for at least 5 days per week for the last year. The average age of participants was 29 years (18-65). The sample consisted of 263 (53.2%) women and 231 (46.8%) men. Overall, one-third (29.4%) participants scored positive for PTSD, while 234 (47.6%) for depression on Pakistan Anxiety and Depression Questionnaire (PADQ) and 224 (45.3%) on Bradford Somatic Inventory (BSI). As high as 80.3% of the cases of PTSD met criteria for caseness on BSI and 67.7% met criteria for caseness on PADQ.

 

“The survey is particularly significant in the context of a developing and resource-constrained country like Pakistan. The reported high rate of PTSD symptoms by TV viewers means that PTSD is an important public health concern. With these data, we should hope that educational and intervention efforts will be designed and implemented among healthcare professionals and the community to address PTSD symptoms in Pakistan,” the head of the Department of Psychiatry at PIMS, Dr. Rizwan Taj, pointed out.

 

Research on this subject has originated from the United States following the September 11 terrorist attacks. One study reported that 17% of the US population outside of New York City described PTSD symptoms two months after the attacks, while 5.8% did so at 6 months owing to watching the terrorist attack on TV. Another study conducted a year later reported new-onset probable PTSD among 5.6% of participants related to increased media coverage of the anniversary of 9/11. This study also reported that watching 12 or more hours of September 11 attack anniversary news coverage was associated with a 3.4-fold increased risk of new-onset probable PTSD. Indirect trauma and its impact are not well-studied outside the western world despite its common occurrence. Pakistan has experienced both natural and manmade traumas during the last three decades. Thousands of Pakistanis have died in terror and counter-terror violence, while millions more have been displaced by fighting. The fact that all these events are extensively and repeatedly covered by popular news channels, without due consideration being given to the resultant impact on public health, needs to be flagged and duly addressed.