Tips for coping with jarring images of war

People everywhere are feeling the emotional burden of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, especially because results of the violent clashes are so visible through modern media and social media coverage.

"It's like you're there, but you're not," said Michele Bedard-Gilligan, an associate professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

She encourages people to be intentional about when they seek news updates by considering, "What am I going to get from this?" before tuning in – especially when viewing graphic imagery. Taking a break shouldn't make you question your concern over the conflict, she said. 

"[When reports are] taking such a toll on our mood or our sleep, or our ability to sort of engage in the life that we're living, those are signs that we're overdoing it in some way," Bedard-Gilligan said. "They're no longer motivating positive action. They're no longer motivating compassion and empathy and caring. But instead, they're actually getting in our way in some way. That's when I think it's often time to think about what you're watching and why."

At and near the frontlines of war, she said, she fears a wave of PTSD symptoms will emerge for many survivors.

"What we've seen following past conflicts across the globe is that a sizable number of people will develop something that looks like PTSD in the months and years after a conflict like this has ended, or after they've been removed from it," said Bedard-Gilligan, who researches PTSD and its effects. "Twenty to thirty percent of people, probably, will end up developing significant PTSD symptoms."

Download broadcast-ready media assets with Bedard-Gilligan on the mental toll of wartime violence and PTSD.

Learn about Bedard-Gilligan's current research projects studying PTSD.

UW Medicine