Trigger warnings were born out of the sensitivity of the internet. A safe haven, more accurately, a safe space, for the difficult discussions of mental health and addiction have been taking place on the internet. More and more ‘millennials’ have been coming forward in eloquent, raw, personal accounts about their experiences with various disorders. They seek to connect the world in understanding and give strength to others who might feel like they are alone in their struggles. As difficult topics were brought up, writers realized that reading about the topics on the other end was causing people distress. They were, as psychologists put it, “triggered” meaning something of their past and the way their brain chemistry had been altered by mental illness was creating discomfort. In order to prepare people for the raw content ahead of them, writers include trigger warnings.
Similar to movie ratings and disclaimers before a TV show which warn against violence, nudity, sex, and even rape, trigger warnings serve a purpose. The purpose is to tell people that what is coming ahead might be difficult to digest. For example, graphic depictions of addiction might be triggering for an addict and inspire feelings of cravings. Topics of suicide and self-harm, for example, are always accommodated with links to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255). Simply put, trigger warnings were created to protect people who are struggling with their mental health from creating a reaction over which they won’t have any control. For some people, trigger warnings can be a lifesaving measure.
What trigger warnings don’t do is guide the conversation. There aren’t follow up warnings about talking to a therapist, turning to family, or what to do if you’re struggling. Media doesn’t come with handouts and workbooks for exploring pressing questions or concerns. Perhaps one day we will do more than give out a warning and actually start creating a dialogue that can change the way we approach mental health.
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