Compound trauma, PTSD, and race-based traumatic stress (RBTS) following death of Tyre Nichols

Research shows the exposure and frequency of violence can have an emotional and psychological toll.
Violent Images and Trauma
Published: Jan. 30, 2023 at 9:07 PM EST
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GREENVILLE, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - Violent videos and mental health. Memphis Police Department body cam footage related to the death of Tyre Nichols has sparked a conversation. It’s hard to avoid those images and research shows the exposure and frequency can have an emotional and psychological toll.

This is not the first or last time you’ll see this coalition rallying for better public safety and trust.

“it’s not only despicable, it’s criminal,” said Efia Nwangaza, human rights activist and organizer. “It requires a reevaluation and a change.”

And it’s to the point people like Zebraylon Woodruff can’t even watch the evidence that’s dissected endlessly online, on social media channels and on TV.

“Personally as a Black male I am not comfortable watching anymore of these videos because it reflects myself – I can actually see my brothers and my friends,” Woodruff said. “We want to raise consciousness and let people know that people care.”

Consciousness about police brutality, and the need for change following the death of Tyre Nichols. But Universal Therapeutic Services CEO Tiffney Parker, LMSW, says compound trauma or screen trauma, is complex, and can come from hearing or seeing a traumatic situation repeatedly.

“It’s almost like layers of a cake, adding on top of the next,” Parker said.

“There are people watching everywhere,” added Woodruff.

Parker says people seeking clinical treatment peaked within her Upstate office during the summer of 2020.

“I cannot watch that video,” Parker said.

And she’s actively educating the public about other mental health conditions related to viewing violence repeatedly: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and race-based traumatic stress (RBTS).

“At this time we feel rage,” said Nwangaza. “That rage is a paralyzing rage which verges on an explosion.

Nwangaza is detailing what experts call race-based traumatic stress. What researchers say spans slavery, life after slavery, the enforcement of Jim Crow laws and some issues in modern day policing in the U.S.

“All lives will not matter until Black Lives Matter,” Woodruff said.

Research from Mental Health America shows this type of trauma can lead to anger, depression, and hypervigilance, but Parker cautions, the images related to the death of Tyre Nichols can, affect all people in the form of PTSD.

“There’s a ripple effect,” Parker said.

She points to PTSD following Sept. 11, 2001.

“Folks didn’t want to take a flight, people were scared to go into a high rise building,” Parker said.

She also adds if you’re constantly feeling negative emotions or your physical responses are changing it’s time to filter your settings on your devices.

“Because that’s what we do. We associate to really connect and feel,” Parker said. “You have to say, ‘I cannot watch that.’”

This group says even seeing it once shows the need for legislative and cultural change.

“People are grieving,” Nwangaza said.

Data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness finds depending on where they work, between 7% and 19% of police officers experience the symptoms of PTSD. Parker wants to partner with Upstate law enforcement who also need support. To learn more, visit: