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  • Disha Nevatia

The lack and importance of trigger warnings

Trigger warning: mention of suicide, sexual assault, rape

We consume media in our everyday life whether it be in the form of books, articles, television shows, movies, etc and our consumption of media has undoubtedly increased in the pandemic. Like many others, I spent the last couple of months binge-watching every show and movie that Netflix recommended and I noticed something extremely concerning while unabashedly staring at my screen: the lack of trigger warnings. A trigger warning is a statement that cautions the reader/consumer of the content about potentially disturbing, upsetting, violent, or graphic content. While a handful of social media apps blur our disturbing pictures, most do not give trigger warnings of any importance which can lead to people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or severe anxiety getting triggered. A trigger is anything that causes a heightened increase in symptoms or return of symptoms and can lead to panic/anxiety attacks or relapses which is one of the reasons why trigger warnings are important.

Recently, the famous Netflix series “13 reasons why” faced criticism for not providing a trigger warning before an episode that depicted a graphic suicide scene which left many viewers, including me, extremely disturbed. I remember spending the rest of that day in a haze as the suicide scene revolved around my head, refusing to leave me alone; I could only imagine how a survivor of suicide would respond to such a disturbing and sudden reminder of their trauma. A trigger warning allows the consumer of the content to decide whether they want to continue viewing the content. When it comes to sexual assault, molestation or graphic scenes of violence a lack of trigger warning is highly insensitive as they can cause survivors of those crimes in a highly disturbed state.

Many people argue that trigger warnings help as survivors have to face the trauma to heal from it but the truth is that everyone heals at a different pace and a trigger warning respects and acknowledges this since it allows viewers to decide whether they are ready to view the content or not. Another argument against the use of trigger warnings is that the “real world” does not have trigger warnings which is an incorrect statement. Restaurants mention which dish is non-vegetarian, danger warnings are constantly displayed when traveling by road, common food allergies are also mentioned beforehand. These are forms of trigger warnings as well, aren't they? Many people are called “too sensitive” if they require trigger warnings. One would not be called sensitive for having a peanut allergy, in the same way, victims of trauma are not “too sensitive.” One would not be blamed for having an allergic reaction to peanuts if they weren't warned that the food that they are about to consume contains peanuts, in the same way blaming victims of trauma for their reactions to triggering content is extremely unfair.

Content showing or even mentioning suicide, self-harm, graphic acts of violence or abuse, sexual assault, flashing lights, etc require trigger warnings. If you are ever confused about whether your content requires a trigger warning it is safer to add one. Trigger warnings should also clearly mention the subject of the trigger and if possible a timestamp should also be provided. One should also be careful to use trigger warnings in day-to-day life as adding trigger warnings is another way of showing respect to the victims of trauma and makes this world a more sensitive and understanding place for them.

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