Videos of police violence against minorities are frequently posted online and shared by activists and others as a way to press for police accountability.
But while such social exposure is very important, a new study suggests that seeing these videos may also have detrimental effects on the mental health of young minorities, particularly females and Hispanics.
“The videos of these injustices should be public and people should continue to record and post them,” said lead author Dr. Brendesha Tynes, an associate professor of education and psychology at the University of Southern California (USC) Rossier School of Education.
However, the “findings show that mental health problems are exacerbated with exposure, so viewers should be mindful of their viewing practices, auto-play settings and how they think about the event after they’ve seen it.”
Previous studies have linked exposure to violent media with trauma, and other research has connected actual police killings in a given region to poor mental health in same-race communities. Study authors say the new study is the first to investigate the relationship between repeated youth exposure to traumatic events online with mental health.
For the study, the researchers looked at data from a nationally representative sample of 302 Black and Hispanic adolescents ages 11-19. African American and Hispanic participants were asked about police shootings, immigrants being detained by federal border agents, and beatings.
Though the study does not establish cause-and-effect, the findings show that Hispanic participants reported significantly more depressive symptoms than African American participants. Female participants reported significantly more depressive and PTSD symptoms than male participants. This was true for teens that viewed violence involving both African Americans and Hispanic individuals.
“The study shows that the increase in depressive and PTSD symptoms crosses racial and ethnic lines — in other words, the mental health of both African American and Latinx teens may be linked to viewing any racial violence, not just that which depicts their own racial or ethnic group,” Tynes said.
To make matters worse, 45 percent of youth report they are online “almost constantly,” according to the 2018 survey by Pew Internet Research.
Given such high levels of Internet use, the researchers suggest that mental health professionals and educators have conversations with young people of color about their exposure to online racial violence. They also recommend that these professionals take steps to improve their own cultural competency.
The findings are published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.