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Shark bites and negative media linked to PTSD

31 October 2018
Two thirds of survivors felt media negatively impacted recovery
Nearly a third of shark bite survivors experience post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - an outcome compounded by negative media experiences, a new study by the University of Sydney's Brain and Mind Centre reports.

PTSD was 12 times more common in people who had negative media experiences following their shark bite.

Published in today’s Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, the study involving 60 Australian shark bite survivors, witnesses, first responders, and their families reveals PTSD was 12 times more common in people who had negative media experiences following their shark bite than those who didn’t have negative media experiences.

Funded by the NSW Department of Primary Industries under the Shark Management Strategy Annual Competitive Grants Program, the study reports that common negative experiences included being asked to relive their event (71 percent), to re-enact their event (33 percent) or being asked if they wanted the shark involved in their event killed (45 per cent).

The 24-hour news cycle, and the methods of some journalists, may feel predatory to shark bite survivors and their families.
Jennifer Taylor, Brain and Mind Centre, University of Sydney

Media coverage was reported as lasting for months or years by most respondents, and two thirds felt this media coverage had a negative impact on their recovery.

“One interpretation of these findings is that the 24-hour news cycle, and the methods of some journalists, may feel predatory to shark bite survivors and their families,” said study leader, Jennifer Taylor from the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre.

“Helping and supporting individuals affected by shark bite events and negative media experiences may not be enough—perhaps media guidelines are also needed, similar to those used in the reporting of suicide.”

An attack can leave you with post-traumatic stress for years after, and as a group it's important that we can talk about our issues when they arise.
Shark bite survivor, David Pearson

Other key findings

PTSD was six times higher in survivors who have no partner and few friends, suggesting social support may be important for averting psychological harm following shark attacks.

Professor Nicholas Glozier, study chief investigator, added, “Witnesses and first responders to shark bite survivors, as well as their family and friends also had high rates of post-event PTSD, indicating the wider impact of the event on local communities.”

Bite Club

Shark bite survivor, David Pearson was mauled by a three-metre bull shark while surfing at Headland Beach on the mid-north coast of NSW in 2011.

Mr Pearson experienced negative comments about his attack in news stories and social media and established Bite Club, a non-profit organisation to support people affected by shark bites, including survivors, first responders, friends and relatives.

The Brain and Mind Centre study findings are based exclusively on interviews and a survey of Australian Bite Club members.

The first rule of Bite Club is to talk about Bite Club.
Shark bite survivor, David Pearson

"The first rule of Bite Club is to talk about Bite Club,” says Mr Pearson.

"An attack can leave you with post-traumatic stress for years after, and as a group it's important that we can talk about our issues when they arise."

Beyond the Bite www.beyondthebite.org

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SMHWhen media bark causes more harm than a shark bite

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