Today is Time to Talk Day, a day for everyone – not just those who struggle – to talk about mental health. On the table: one of my personal bugbears, trigger warnings.
For a start, if you haven’t already, try this article from The Atlantic that circulated a few years ago. In relation to the increasing use of trigger warnings on content that might be uncomfortable, it claims that:
A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense.
To this I say: bollocks.
Let’s get this out of the way first: there is a difference between something being a trigger and something making you uncomfortable. I have a Twitter account, I can’t help but see some amount of trash online every day that makes me very uncomfortable.
I’m not triggered.
Remember when you learned about the First World War in school? Shell shock? Reactions to loud noises? Yup. PTSD. Sexual assault. Violence. Accidents. Anxiety symptoms. Flashbacks. Panic attacks. Triggers.
When I was fourteen years old I had a mental breakdown. Around the same time I watched The Exorcist and my warped, malfunctioning brain led one into the other, crashing down around me, until any reference to the film was enough to give me a serious case of The Anxieties.
Tubular Bells? I’m leaving the room. GIF of creepy girl vomiting that weird green crap all over the priest? Probably going to cry. Even saying the title dried my mouth out faster than a nasty hangover.
Even searching for that picture still makes me vaguely uneasy.
For me, it was relatively easy to avoid anything that was going to trigger this reaction, as it was unlikely I was going to bump into Linda Blair in Tesco shopping for crucifixes and pea soup. But things like sexual assault and violence that are becoming more of a talking point – the #MeToo movement, for example – and it’s becoming increasingly easy to stumble across something that can cause a similar reaction in people who’ve had a traumatic experience.
Trigger warnings are there to give people a warning, an opportunity to prepare themselves, a chance to make sure they’re going to be OK.
They’re not an easy way out, an excuse to coddle a bunch of millennials into avoiding things they think might be difficult, creating a society of easily-offended cotton wool fluffs.
You wouldn’t laugh at someone who served in active combat for suffering from anxiety and flashbacks if a car backfires in their street. If you agree with that but in the same breath accuse a sexual assault survivor of being soft because they want the option to avoid or be aware of something that might cause them distress then you have problems I’m not even sure I can be bothered to unpick.
Putting warnings on things isn’t a sign of a soft society, it’s a sign of an educated one. We know that some things have an adverse reaction on peoples’ physical health, we know that some things have an adverse reaction on peoples’ mental health. It’s like saying “well you shouldn’t have allergy warnings on food”.
I’d like to invite anyone who thinks that to come and look after me when I’ve accidentally eaten something with gluten in it.
You can, of course, argue that some allergies are fatal. Guess what? Bad mental health days are fatal too. Suicide kills more people every day than anaphylaxia. The fact that we aren’t treating them equally as seriously is a sign that that we still have miles to go.
In conclusion, don’t laugh at trigger warnings. Don’t take the piss. Don’t slam your hands on the table and claim you’ve been triggered because you disagree with something. Don’t be an ass. Don’t do it.
Since it’s Time to Talk Day, DO: talk about mental health, ask your friends how they’re doing, share this post if you think I’m making a modicum of sense.
It’s mental health, my dudes. It’s a big deal.
If you want to read an awesome YA book on PTSD and what triggers can actually do, let me point you in the direction of The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson.
Stock images from Pexels.