Real On-Air Violence Can Traumatize Viewers

Alison Parker and Adam Ward were killed during a live interview.

— -- The shooting on live television in Virginia Wednesday could have a psychological effect on the thousands of viewers who were exposed to the traumatic event, according to some experts.

Alison Parker, 24, and Adam Ward, 27, were shot to death as they did a live interview for Roanoke station WDBJ-TV. Viewers to the daily morning show saw shots ring out as Parker and the woman she was interviewing attempted to flee before the camera falls.

Carolyn Ievers-Landis, a clinical psychologist at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland, said people who saw it may experience their own trauma in the face of such sudden and unexpected violence, and then be powerless to do anything about it.

“They weren’t expecting and weren’t choosing” to watch, Ievers-Landis told ABC News. “It really can have effects on people, especially people who are prone to anxiety.”

She said children, who might have been getting ready for school, are also at greater risk and may feel unsafe in their environment. She speculated that both adults and children who watched it “were vicariously traumatized by this.”

“They might experience flashbacks…it might be difficult to get it out of their minds. They might experience nightmares relating to it,” Ievers-Landis said of possible symptoms related to trauma.

She said it’s key that people do not take symptoms lightly just because they were not directly involved in the shooting and that they seek help for any symptoms of anxiety or depression they or their children experience.

“Baby yourself for a while because you’re going through almost like a grief [or] traumatic process,” she said.

A 2013 published study examined the effects of media exposure to events such as 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombings and Superstorm Sandy and found an association between post-traumatic stress disorder and viewers of the media coverage, especially those who watched a lot of it.

As for his most recent event, Ievers-Landis recommended that parents talk to children about avoiding videos of the shooting online.

“Once something is in your mind, you cannot erase it,” Ievers-Landis said, explained she’s had many children tell her after witnessing a violent event, “I wish I could take this out of my brain.”