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Is Your True Crime Addiction Harming Your Mental Health?

If you find yourself diving into the latest True Crime series on Netflix as they’re released, rest assured you’re not alone. There’s something deeply – and darkly – thrilling about diving into the details of mysterious disappearances, the ins and outs of decades-old murder investigations, the headline trials of the last few decades. It intrigues us, enthrals us, and pumps us full of adrenaline. And the world’s obsession with true crime is only growing with the inundation of media platforms. The genre has flooded podcast apps, streaming sites, bookstores, and Youtube clips so that we can always get our fix.

After the rough year we’ve all had (on account of reasons I need not reiterate here) however, consuming true crime content may not actually be the best idea for our mental health.

Why do we love true crime?

There’s something morbidly fascinating about those aberrant members of society who commit violent crimes. We want to know what was going on in their minds. Why did they do it? How did they do it? What became of them after? Perhaps the desire to learn more about this dark side of humanity speaks to the fact that we all navigate through a certain amount of darkness within ourselves – of course, usually to a lesser extent.

Interestingly, women are the largest consumers of the genre. A 2010 study found that out of those who reviewed true crime novels on Amazon, 70% were women. The reasons for this have been largely speculation, but one possible answer is that these stories provide women with information that could protect them in the future. Women are more likely than men to fear becoming victims of crime, and so the horror stories in the true crime genre serve as cautionary tales.

And this seems to make sense because according to Kate Tuttle at the New York Times, when women are connected to violent crimes, they’re far more likely to be victims or survivors, while men are more likely to be perpetrators.

Perhaps we love true crime because we go into each story expecting some kind of resolution. There’s usually a pretty clear “bad guy” – and if there isn’t at the start, we hope that he’ll emerge – and we want him to be caught. We crave the resolution that it promises – although any fan of the genre will know that the resolution doesn’t always come.

According to Tuttle, “at the most basic level, true crime satisfies that little-kid desire to see beneath the surface of everything”.

Why might True Crime be harmful?

There’s nothing wrong with binging the occasional Netflix show or indulging in a little escapism – even if that escapism is based on another’s reality. But recent research has found that too much of this particular kind of content may actually have a negative impact on your perception of crime and on your mental health.

According to Allie Volpe at Vice, “when people actively consumed crime news, whether through news outlets, radio, or television documentaries, they reported being more fearful of crime—regardless of actual crime rates. The same can be said for true crime fans”.

As an example, binging too many true crime podcasts in a week may have you imagining that there’s a serial killer lurking outside your house every time you hear a noise at night. This despite the fact that FBI findings claim that serial murder accounts for less than 1% of all annual murders.

Perhaps in some ways being more careful is a good thing, but the fearfulness and added anxiety that constantly being on your guard results in is far from healthy. Volpe writes that “persistent hypervigilance that stems from a diet of true crime can lead to increased overall stress”. That, in turn, leads to all the illnesses that stress can cause, like hypertension and heart disease.

Not to mention, it lessens your chances of making smalltalk with the stranger behind you on the bus, or in the line at the supermarket – social behaviour that has shown to be beneficial.

Volpe adds that prologued exposure to stress hormones also leads to mental health problems, like anxiety and depression. Since we’ve all got enough on our plates to stress us out these days, it may be a good idea to listen to something that uplifts or relaxes us in our free time, rather than something that further sets off our fight or flight response.

“After a year on high alert because of the pandemic, flooding your system with nerve-wracking entertainment may exacerbate problems in other areas of life.”

So, rather than keeping ourselves in a perpetual state of anxiety it’s best to take some breaks between the true crime binges. Add some comedy into the mix. You can find a list of my personal favourite hilarious podcasts here if you need a laugh.

Not only will it relax you and work your abdominal muscles, but laughter has been proven to result in a whole host of benefits physically and mentally.

I’m not going to completely abandon the true crime genre, but at least, for now, I think I’ll be a little more cautious about the kind fo content I’m consuming and the effect it has on me. Plus, I know all my friends are just going to tell me all the gory deets next time I see them anyway.

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