*cracks knuckles* Today’s post is gonna be a tough one for me… not only because of the controversial topic, but because of my life experience that has led me to this topic. Today we’re talking about trigger warnings (and I don’t mean a sign telling you about Roy Rogers’ horse over there).
If not already apparent, a trigger warning is: a statement cautioning that content (as in a text, video, or class) may be disturbing or upsetting. There’s been a vehement argument in American colleges over the last few years regarding the use of them. I read an article the other day (yesterday, actually) that spoke of someone using their ‘sick’ days to take a ‘mental break’ from work… to essentially decompress and allow their brain to settle into being able to work productively again. They expressly used the excuse in an email to their boss, to which they got a response of, ‘good for you’.
Approximately 1 in 5 Americans (that’s over 43 million) experience some kind of mental illness in a year… and of those, less than half get treatment (whether by inability or by choice). source So, the chances of somebody you know (or, even you) needing a ‘mental break’ is pretty high. Even in 2017, the stigma of mental illnesses is still hanging around… but it’s getting slowly better as evidenced by the article I read.
This is where trigger warnings come into effect. People are more aware of things like PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), and a myriad of other acronymed words. So, in an attempt to address the concerns about some materials being of a sensitive nature and possibly causing issues with those with some form of mental illness, we’ve come up with the idea of trigger warnings (so named for ‘triggers’, or influences that mental illness can make someone more susceptible to).
We already use something similar when it comes to what kids might be watching/reading/listening to/playing in the form of ratings… including triggers such as language, violence, or adult situations. In no way am I equating someone with a mental illness to a child… just the fact that there is a penchant for susceptibility. There are warning stickers on albums, signs on buildings that don’t allow minors (and the reasons), and even labels before every television show.
I had a very traumatic experience when I was in High School, which has resulted in a very hard to control reaction to depictions of suicide. Whether this be on TV or in a book, it doesn’t seem to matter. Even overhearing people talking about it can garner the reaction. It’s something I’ve had to deal with for over 30 years now (gah, that makes me feel so damn old), yet the reaction is the same every time.
When 13 Reasons Why came out on Netflix, I was intrigued. The very first words of the description for the show are: Why did Hannah Baker take her own life? There was a trigger warning (for me) right in the first sentence. Now, for someone who doesn’t experience traumatic feelings about suicide, that sentence is probably pretty innocuous. For me, that was a gigantic sign, flashing letters 20 feet high saying, “Um… might be careful, here.”
The biggest argument I see regarding trigger warnings are that Real Life™ doesn’t give you any (which is only partially true). When it comes to the natural world, yeah, I can see that. When it comes to other people, though… that’s where the argument tends to swing. There are those that don’t care. They’ll swear up a storm in front of children. They’ll react violently to something that doesn’t require violence. They’ll discuss anything under the sun without any regard if anyone around them wants to hear it.
I’m one of those people that really does try very hard to respect the people around me, whether they deserve it, or not. I do my best not to bring back my Marine language in public… but it slips sometimes. I try not to discuss topics that can be volatile … but that doesn’t always work. I’m human, too. I do try my best, though.
When someone gives you a quick blink of the high beams late at night letting you know that there might be something down the road (like a cop, or a pothole, or a zombie), do you respond in anger at the warning? Do you just let it slide and shrug it off? Do you appreciate the attempt? There are many ways to react. Did the person who warned you have to do that? What compelled them to think of a stranger? Why did they think it was necessary? All the questions we ask when it comes to a similar warning when it comes to things like books and movies and college classes.
*my opinion follows*
I’m not looking for anyone to provide me with trigger warnings in any way, shape, or form. When it happens, I’m appreciative of the effort someone took (however big or small) to give a warning that might affect someone. If the warning doesn’t affect me, I don’t think less of the person, either. I’m not going to demand that policy or worldview changes to meet my needs (it hasn’t really done a very good job so far). I will press for people to try to be a little more understanding about someone going through something they might not be, though.
What do you think about this topic? I know I’ve barely scratched the surface of the debate, but hopefully I’ve given you something for your brain to chew on for a little bit. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
See you tomorrow.