War is bad. There are obvious physical repercussions for civilians caught in the crossfire, as is documented in the daily news coverage in Ukraine – the endless bombings, brutality, and deaths are a tragic reality for Ukrainians. However, there are also substantial risks to the mental health of civilians, especially for children, who are most vulnerable to the drastic changes in routine and protracted trauma of war. In past wars, children who lived through conflict were likelier to develop anxiety and depression, and though not all will become traumatized, most react to trauma. For example, some will become more agitated and restless, while others withdraw and internalize, which is mistakenly interpreted as a “good” reaction to trauma. The mental health of adults is no less important. The care and support that parents provide to their children play a significant role in how children are affected by war, and if those parents are despondent or traumatized themselves, they cannot provide that support. Babies, while they may not understand the full scope of the situation, are also susceptible to the negative impacts of impaired parental interaction. Experts recommend providing some sort of structure to children – such as school or time to spend with families or play. Ukrainians certainly have it the worst, but ordinary people around the globe are also mentally affected by the war. Anyone who has felt depressed or anxious after watching the news knows what I mean. In addition, unfiltered footage of disturbing scenes of death, destruction, and tragedy are disseminated directly to the populace through social media platforms such as the immensely popular TikTok or Instagram. It is not that the interconnectedness and information accessibility of social media is a bad thing – social media can be used to foster positive awareness and solidarity. However, the flip side is true: depending on how it is used, it can have repercussions on mental health. Studies have indicated links between watching too much news coverage of 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing with greater acute stress, and even symptoms of PTSD. Social media is also a breeding ground for fake news and misinformation, a digital pandemic that has infected the world far longer than COVID has. Lack of certainty about whether a source can be trusted can blur the line between reality and fiction and cause psychological distress. The rampant social media coverage of the war is a continuation of a pattern that has existed as long as social media, but which escalated around the 2016 presidential elections. The same urge that causes you to waste an hour watching cat videos also encourages you to feverishly scroll through psychologically damaging images and videos. That is not to say, however, that one should ignore the war. It is important to be informed and aware, but how you do it is up to you, and depending on the choice you make, your mental health could suffer.
As always, this particular issue speaks to a larger defect of the system – the usage of social media. This isn’t my first post about social media. TikTok is a multiple offender, back when kids were mistakenly self-diagnosing with mental illnesses. The technologies of the age are becoming more and more metaphysical (think Metaverse and NFTs) and information-based. In my opinion, the world is experiencing a paradigm shift towards a more introspective, independent, and psychological mindset. So far (so far!), the primary human function that machinery has not replaced is the brain, and the job market is increasingly becoming reliant on expertise (shoutout to all the minimum-wage immigrant manual laborers). Indeed, the “information age” is aptly named. The human psyche now finds itself at the center of civilization, putting it under great pressure. However, the system has not adapted to this shift, and as a result lacks support for mental health. Think about it this way – if we gave coal energy to humans without climate controls, they would pollute the atmosphere with greenhouse gases (wait, where have we heard this before?). Policy has historically been rather slow, but that by no means excuses its failure to address the evolving needs of humanity. Technological progress is accelerating, and at some time in the future, we will reach a tipping point. On the other hand, by focusing on the mental health of non-combatants, I don’t mean to belittle the struggles of Ukrainians, which have the most priority and significance. But as for the war, I have little to say. Why is there even war in this day and age? War is unacceptable in more ways than one and is a disease many times more ancient than COVID and social media misuse. We should have found a vaccine for war a long time ago, but I suppose there will always be anti-vaxxers (*cough cough* Putin). Anti-vaxxers? That’s a great idea. Maybe I’ll make it my next blog post.