Trigger warnings – helpful or harmful?

Suspected to originate from online feminist journals from the 90s, the term “trigger warning” was used to forewarn the reader of possible emotional triggers that might arise from the content they intended to embark on.

However, the term has become a buzzword within recent years; It’s used for anything, from the death of a pet, to the mere mention of a celebrity. While the term serves good intentions, it has become overused as it trained training internet users to become overly sensitive through lack of exposure.

Trigger warnings do hold value in online spaces. Discussions of rape, incest, racism and abuse are all valid examples of what someone may not want to come into contact with while browsing.

Past experience does play into how someone reacts to information online, and those who choose to avoid contact with something that may trigger a past event is expected. With that being said, it does not apply to every person.

“I think it is sort of a balancing act, and it varies from person to person,” Ava Laguercia said, a third-year psychology major. “Personally, I think it’s good to provide a warning for any material that could be harmful or hurtful to those who have been through a trauma, especially in the classroom environment.”

Avoiding interaction with content that makes you uncomfortable is nearly impossible.

In the education system, it is of standard practice to learn the horrors of history, as they hold value to the future. For most Americans, learning about war, famine and disease is common, and while it can upset a student, it is information that’s necessary for common knowledge.

There are times though when trigger warnings on sensitive content shouldn’t be the norm, such as when discussing politics, humanitarian issues and educational content. While mental health should remain a priority, some issues go beyond the self, and ignorance on an issue is not the resolution.

“In the online context, I think it became a joke for some people, and maybe that is why it became so diluted in that sense,” Jasmine Herrera said, a psychology student entering her final year. “Others are trying to be more sensitive so they can meet everyone’s standards of what is ok.”

Avoiding all media that may cause emotional distress can worsen other aspects of life, as more anxiety can manifest through association of the original triggers.

So, when it comes to triggers and mental health, the right kind of exposure to an anxiety can actually improve one’s coping towards the subject. Exposure therapy became a popular treatment during the 20th century and is still practiced by many psychologists today.

It needs to be kept in mind that severe post-traumatic stress disorder can vary from person-to-person and depending on the extent of trauma, healthy exposure may take time. It is best to talk to a professional when dealing with issues of severe PTSD, not online spaces.

Overall, internet mental health outlets can help connect others under a shared issue, but it can also end up worsening triggers.

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