A crime scene in someone's head
True crime stories have become increasingly popular in society today, but it can be dangerous to constantly consume this content. (Illustration by Molly Posten, Minneapolis College of Art and Design)

The Consumption of True Crime Takes a Toll on Mental Health

These stories have leaked into nearly all forms of media. People casually consume such heavy content, but how is it affecting them?

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A crime scene in someone's head

These stories have leaked into nearly all forms of media. People casually consume such heavy content, but how is it affecting them?

True crime content continues to reach new levels of popularity, and people typically consume it via podcasts and TV shows. Both of these platforms offer short, fast-paced storytelling that keeps fans hooked. It is exhilarating for viewers and listeners to experience fear in a limited capacity — and this rush of adrenaline becomes addictive. However, there are some clear negative effects that come with consuming such disturbing content.

Most of these stories are centered around rape and murder. These are extremely brutal topics that have generally been avoided in the past, and the fact that these stories are real only makes them scarier. Somehow, this perfect storm of taboo horror stories has made its way to the entertainment industry, and there are now people that consume true crime content on a daily basis. Countless people will listen to these horrifying stories while doing everyday tasks, such as driving to work. It is important to be conscious about what media you consume and what effect it has on you. Incorporating true crime content into your daily routine could be harmful to your mental health for a variety of reasons.

In many cases, women consume true crime content in an attempt to avoid becoming a victim, which is understandable, because the majority of violent crimes depicted in these podcasts and shows happen to women. Often, the attacker is a man that is acting out due to sexual motivations. This fosters a sense of genuine fear for female listeners, as it feels like it could truly happen to them.

As stated in a Thriveworks article, “True crime stories can educate women about how to cope with scary situations and distant threats. They can teach them practical tips and survival techniques that might prevent them from being victimized themselves…Or a woman might listen to true tales of domestic-violence-turned-deadly so she’ll learn to recognize red flags in her boyfriends’ behavior.” However empowering this may feel, it is also anxiety-inducing. After listening to horror story after horror story, it feels almost inevitable that something awful will happen to you. This is a toxic headspace to live in.

Outside of gender, true crime content can strike fear into the heart of anyone — especially those prone to anxious thoughts. The point where consuming this content becomes a problem is when it begins to affect one’s daily life. Regular situations may become terrifying because true crime stories take place nearly anywhere. After hearing about too many of these specific cases, it can easily become scary to travel just about anywhere.

Going to a party, shopping at the mall, walking home, visiting a friend, going to a bar or even sitting in the car can become terrifying in the mind of a traumatized true crime consumer. There have been multiple cases where a killer has added flashing lights to their car and pretended to be a police officer. The victim will then pull over and comply with the fake officer, leading them to their death. These stories make it scary to simply drive, and one may begin to picture future crime scenes all around them.

Some people have become so paranoid that they take daily action in the hopes of avoiding becoming one of these true crime stories. Something small like double-checking the locks at night may seem harmless — the problem arises when this behavior becomes ritualistic and unavoidable. Too much true crime consumption can make something as simple as going to the store seem terrifying. Some will find themselves avoiding wearing headphones to reduce vulnerability. They will ensure there is no one following them and even check under and inside their car. They will then speed away in order to avoid sitting in the parking lot. Going to the store — a usually simple activity — has now become a stressful event. It is good to be cautious, but one cannot live their life in such intense fear. It may even become easier to just avoid leaving the house.

Some people may find themselves beginning to isolate due to this fear. An article from Health Essentials noted, “If you start to feel fearful every time you go out — or you sometimes feel too scared to go out at all — that’s a sign that your true-crime habit is negatively infringing on your everyday life.” Podcasts and shows should not cause their audience to feel the need to seclude themselves — that is an unhealthy headspace to live in. There may be risk in going out with friends, but that should not keep you from making plans. It is important to be wary of strangers, but that should not cause you to act cold to the good people you may come across. And while traveling alone can be scary, it should not stop you from going where you please. The content you consume should not consume you.

After listening to enough of these horrifying stories, it is easy to fall into a dark headspace. It can be satisfying to see the killer caught, but concerning and damaging in cases where they are not. True crime fans will often continue to mull over unsolved cases, as if they may figure it out themselves. Despite the results, something terrible happened to a real person.

It is important to remember that the story of someone’s murder did not take place for your entertainment. It can be interesting to hear about, but it should be done respectfully and in moderation, and it is beneficial to take a break from this content. If listening or watching has become habitual, it is important to genuinely consider the mental effects. There is no need to fill your time with such negativity if you are not enjoying it as much as you once did. There are so many positive and constructive podcasts and shows that can leave you feeling uplifted. Media should be consumed mindfully.

Writer Profile

Trinity Crompton

Molloy College

Trinity is a senior at Molloy College majoring in writing and minoring in journalism. She hopes to pursue a career in fashion journalism. She loves dachshunds, platform shoes and Stephen King novels.

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