Mental Health and Listening to News

I used to be gung-ho about listening to the news and making sure that others listened to the news as well. That deep desire to listen to the news drove me toward a highly successful speech and debate career in high school,[1]  among other things.

However, in light of events in my life, I’ve needed to reevaluate my attitude towards listening to the news. You see, I’ve gone through some difficult things as well, and during these difficult times the last thing I wanted to hear was more bad news for half an hour every night.

So what is it? Should I (and we) avoid the news like I have sometimes done recently, or should I (and we) closely follow the news, no matter what?

I do think that it is still important to listen to the news; however, I do not think that news should be listened to at the expense of one’s own mental health.

It is important to listen to the news because we should know what is going on with our cities, states, countries, and the entire world. By listening to what is going on around us, we can (hopefully) make informed decisions in our own lives and in cases where the lives of others could be affected.[2] It can give us wise information on how we vote, on which parts of our cities and states are particularly rough, and on what the appropriate clothing is considering the weather outside. Clearly, we gain a great deal of value by listening to the news.

However, speaking from personal experience, that value of listening to the news is lost when we are mentally exhausted. Indeed, in my personal life last year, I’ve dealt with both of my dad’s parents being sick (one of them passed away); on a number of occasions during this time (especially when I spent a full day trying to help my grandparents), I would just tune out of the news on the television and not really absorb the information being given to me. And if I, a news nut, tune out when trying to listen to the news when I’m mentally exhausted, that’s a sign that we should all not invest much time in the news when we are mentally exhausted.

Furthermore, speaking from what I’ve seen friends and family experience, the value of listening to the news is also lost if a news story triggers emotions related to a past traumatic event in their lives.[3] When the emotions triggered by an event are so big that you struggle to listen to the news, then maybe that’s a sign to change the channel for the time being.

Yes, the news is valuable. But the news is not so valuable that we should ignore our own mental health. Especially considering the fact that you can read news stories two or three days after they appear on television, it’s more than okay to wait those few days and then read the news at that time.


[1] I qualified for a statewide speech and debate championship all four years of high school, and a nationwide speech and debate championship for three years of high school.
[2] I am talking about actual news journalism reporting, not the editorializing that we sometimes get on some of the cable news networks in the United States.
[3] This has especially been the case recently with various stories that have come out about sexual misconduct.

Note: This post was edited for Mental Health Awareness Month in 2019.

The Case for Content Warnings

Awhile back, my younger brother was required to watch some educational videos on issues of sexual violence, because his university required it of all incoming first-year students. As supportive as I am of my younger brother and his educational pursuits, I had a problem while I overheard these videos—I’ve heard enough stories of sexual violence, especially from people I care deeply about, that I just couldn’t stand to hear the video my brother was listening to in the background.

My brother felt guilty about playing this video when I was in the room, and he repeatedly apologized. Not only did I accept the apology, but I also respected and admired the fact that he was understanding of my emotions.

Regardless of what happened, this situation provided a teachable moment for my brother and me, and hopefully a teachable moment for all of us. The thing I want to teach all of us is that content warnings are extremely important and are essential to our well-being and that of our friends.

A content warning is a statement cautioning that content may be disturbing, upsetting, or otherwise hurtful. By giving such a statement, you are giving the warning that it might not be in the best interests of a person’s mental health to see the content. Such a warning is often given on the news when it is going to show badly injured, dying, or dead bodies. Some outlets also give content warnings when there’s content which may revive horrid memories of the past, such as stories about sexual violence or other forms of abuse.

These content warnings can and sometimes do save people from disturbing images that would be detrimental to a person’s mental health. They save people from getting upset about dead bodies or having flashbacks to violence they experienced in their lives, for example. Additionally, even in cases where we can’t avoid the content, at least we’re warned that what we’re about to see may be difficult to take.

Without a content warning, you end up like me that one time—deeply disturbed and feeling the need to go to a room where I couldn’t hear the video my brother was required to play. Or worse. And I’m sure other readers can speak to situations when they didn’t receive content warnings, and then walked into situations where they were triggered and therefore deeply hurt.

And yet, in spite of the negative experiences so many of us have when we don’t get content warnings, it is still a debate whether there should be content warnings. The University of Chicago, for example, refuses to allow them.[1] It has even lamentably become a political debate, where the “liberal” side advocates for content warnings while some on the “conservative” side call advocates of content warnings “liberal snowflakes.”[2]

I call the politicizing of content warnings lamentable because content warnings should not be a liberal issue or a conservative issue. It is an issue of mental health. It is such a big issue of mental health that I resent the fact that I feel like I have to make a “case” for content warnings to convince people that they are important. If we care about the mental well-being of people, we should look past the politics and give others content warnings when there is a statement, article, or news story which may be disturbing or upsetting for large groups of people.  

Note: Since it is just to give content warnings, this is a “Blindly Just” post.


[1] The University of Chicago said that they do not support trigger warnings, which is the same thing as a content warning. Here’s the story on the University’s rejection of trigger warnings: https://www.npr.org/2016/08/26/491531869/university-of-chicago-tells-freshmen-it-does-not-support-trigger-warnings

[2] People viewed as “fragile” enough to need these warnings are indeed often viewed as “snowflakes.” I know this is an opinion piece, but this opinion piece does add insight to how people who need these warnings are often viewed: https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2018/10/18/way-handle-trigger-warnings-develop-one-time-only-one-opinion