- Please note that the following may have content that some could find distressing. PLEASE think of yourself and where you’re at before reading. As always, if you do become distressed please contact your local mental health crisis support group.
- Please read Hey, University of Chicago: I am an academic. I am a survivor. I use trigger warnings in my classes. Here’s why. By Dr Erika Price.
- Love to hear your thoughts and feels. Leave a comment.
- Please feel free to add links to mental health crisis services in your region in the comments section and I will put them into a list. Thanks in advance.
The article above, came to my attention via that classy joint known as Facebook. I didn’t know that Anti-Trigger Warning Folk (Anti-Folk) was a thing before reading this article. I’d heard jokes around the internets about being ‘triggered’ but paid it no attention. Now that I have looked into the abyss, I cannot look away.
Dr Erika Price (social psychologist) encapsulates the reasons why trigger warnings are important, so I will endeavour to not rehash her arguments. However, I would like to add my own experience and opinions to her argument.
I am an academic-in-training (Applied Science; Psychology) and I live with mental illness. I have chronic Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Living with OCD is one of the many reasons I study psychology. Without the support of lecturers and tutors and their offers to contact them if feeling distressed – I would have dropped out within the first month of first year. I know, I wouldn’t have reached out of my accord had this offer not been made. Eventually a triggering lecture would have potentially risked my life. The heads-up emails and debriefing from my lecturers and tutors where invaluable not only to my education but to my ‘recovery’* as well.
By third year, I was a different student. Still OCD, but I had gained resilience, less reliance on debrief, and little to no fear of a public breakdown when confronted. For me and managing my OCD, I simply needed more time to write my papers. After facing these lectures, warts and all a few times, I was feeling so strong in myself that for my thesis project in third year, I took on my biggest trigger – Sexual Assault. Why this is a trigger is not important. What is important is that without the early support and trigger warnings, I wouldn’t have been there in the first place. I ask this question of the Anti-Folk, because I am mentally ill, am I not worthy of an education? Is my practice of psychology less valuable because I need a little more time? Should I be excluded from classes because I have a bio-chemical imbalance? Who else would you like to exclude? Don’t answer that.
These harmful and discriminatory attitudes make me so angry that I have to get out my reinforced soap box, pull my ranty-pants up to my arm pits, and get my advocate hat on. It deeply concerns me how callous some Anti-Folk can be towards survivors of trauma and people living with mental illness.
With regards to the comments that Millennial’s need bubble wrapping, I make only this point. Giving young people tools and resources is not bubble wrap; It’s support. Offering them choices and opportunities to speak and be heard may have some hope of reducing the horrific suicide rates in Australia.
Trigger warnings and suicide are not mutually exclusive. Being triggered can increase the likelihood of self-harm and suicide. So my question, again, to the Anti-Folk: If we understand the causal role of triggering, suicidal ideation, and suicide; and we know that trigger warnings can reduce this likelihood; why would you ban trigger warnings? Why would you knowingly risk a person’s life? If trigger warnings have nothing to do with you, then does it really impact your life? If your lecturer, for example, sent a bulk message with a trigger warning, are you diminished by knowing some details of the content you are about to cover? I wouldn’t think so; in fact it should encourage you to do some pre-reading. I have self-published articles with trigger warnings at the top and bottom. I take the risk seriously. Ironically, it will appear on top of this post as well. When I share mental health related articles on Facebook or Twitter I put up a warning. I want take care of my readers and friends. I want them to read and engage with the article. More to the point, I want them to come to me if they need support and “surprise” triggers would be a great way to damage trust. Moreover, I especially want to hear what they have to say if the content directly affects them. I certainly do not want to be apart of causing harm to anyone. I want to be apart of the solution.
One way of arming people living with mental illness and survivors of trauma is with choice. Autonomy over their emotional safety. This sense of emotional autonomy gets lost in the pain and fog of PTSD, depression, and anxiety & co. What Anti-Folk need to understand is that by offering a person the autonomy of choice, it gives them power. This power does not diminish anyone else.
Furthermore, it saddens me that people still don’t understand how hard it can be to speak up for survivors of trauma and people living with mental illness. There’s still so much stigma around and it weighs on my mind. Look at the very language that the anti-folk uses. I believe this is broader evidence of the stigma towards people living with mental illness and victim blaming in the community. The fact that this is a thing is further evidence that mental health advocates have a long way to go in removing the fear and misconceptions around survivors and people living with mental illness. I can tell you from personal experience that stigma is very real.
I make one final analogy for the Anti-Folk to consider. When you go to a movie, you use the ratings classification as a guide to what to expect. If it’s rated PG you don’t expect to see Trainspotting style toilet dives. It prepares you, helps inform your expectations as does graphics & advertising. This is what a trigger warning is. Information to guide decision making. As an adult maybe you don’t want to see the latest PG movie, you prefer MA15+. So using the ratings classifications, you steer away from PG movies. The reverse may also be true. If you are a survivor of trauma or living with mental illness, a trigger warning is a guide to helping inform your decision to proceed with reading or viewing or not. Simple as that.
Finally, if being thoughtful towards others makes me wrong; then damn it, I don’t want to be right.
Thanks for reading.
*I personally LOATHE the word ‘recovered’ in relation to my own mental health, I don’t feel it’s applicable to my personal experience. However, I am yet to find an appropriate synonym that can be as readily understood.