Have you ever clicked on a blog or article and a “Trigger Warning” was the first thing you read? I have many times, especially when reading mental health blogs. So what is a Trigger Warning and why is it used when writing about mental illness or victim advocacy?
Trigger Warnings are often used to warn the public, most often those with a mental illness, that the piece many contain unsettling material. For instance a veteran with PTSD may be triggered when exposed to text or images related to war; those battling an eating disorder may not want to read an eating disorder horror story; and someone with Bipolar Disorder may be sent into action from reading an article about suicide during a depressive swing.
Though there’s an abundance of research out there that proves Trigger Warnings are helpful to the mentally ill or disabled, many writers and colleges are rejecting them as a bogus and unwarranted precaution.
In February, The University of Chicago banned the use of Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces in a Welcome Letter intended for college freshmen.
Writer Lindsay Holmes of Healthy Living, who summarized the letter, said, “Students who may be susceptible to mental health issues, like post-traumatic stress disorder or panic disorders, are undeserving of a warning that a lecture or guest speaker may aggravate those issues or traumatic experiences.”
The letter from the university can be seen below: Article by Lindsay Holmes
In the letter, the Dean of Students John Ellison said, “You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion and even disagreement,” part of the note reads. “At times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort.”
Trigger topics for those with mental disorders cause much more than “discomfort”. These topics can cause relapses in recovery, thoughts of suicide and more. In my opinion, this sort of minimizing of these disorders feeds directly into the stigma that a person can control their illness. Stigmas often prevent those who need help from seeking it totally. It’s the “just get over it” mentality.
An article published by Sage Journals in 2014 states, “… Many people with serious mental illness do not seek out treatment when in need or fully participate once interventions have begun. The prejudice and discrimination that comprise the stigma of mental illness is one important reason for the disconnect between effective treatments and care seeking.”
When the University reduced life threatening illnesses to simple “discomfort” it illustrated the prevalence of stigmas that exist in higher education. If these stigmas still exist there, they certainly influence the general population’s view of all mental disorders.
Personally my triggers vary depending on my mood cycles. I recently wrote a blog about my friend who committed suicide just after graduating high school. While it needed to be written, the emotional upheaval it caused still lingers. Reading articles regarding suicides which were entirely preventable has triggered a depressive state in me on more than one occasion.
We accommodate those with visible physical conditions or handicaps but the use of trigger warnings has often been referred to as “coddling” when dealing with the mentally ill. Both conditions are diagnosed issues, yet one is viewed as legitimate and the other one is ignored or belittled. This creates the mindset or stigma, that mental illnesses are not real conditions.
Well, I’m here to tell you, I struggle with mine on a daily basis. It is as real as cancer. These disorders are a cancer of the mind and can be just as deadly. They most certainly cause much more than just discomfort.