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The Links Between Mental Health Stigma and Trigger Warnings

November 30, 2020 Laura A. Barton

The links between mental health stigma and trigger warnings are multifaceted, which means navigating trigger warnings can be complicated. Mental health triggers are often easily dismissed as weakness or laughable, but they're very real, and warnings can help people prepare for a situation. However, those who don't want trigger warnings can also feel stigmatized by them.

Trigger Warnings and Mental Health Stigma's Multifaceted Relationship

The relationship between trigger warnings and mental health stigma is multifaceted in that both sides of the equation can feel negatively impacted. Here, I'm focusing on how trigger warnings are received by those with mental health struggles. On the one hand, the person asking for trigger warnings can feel stigmatized by those who dismiss these warnings, whereas those who don't want the warning can feel further censored or stigmatized for their honesty. I'll illustrate with an example.

Excoriation (skin-picking) disorder is a heavily stigmatized disorder, and people with it feel they need to censor the rawness of their experiences, such as hiding wounds and scarring. Those wounds and scars can be triggering to others as their minds want to engage in picking, which makes it difficult to connect with those who want to share without hiding. Because of that, online support groups for this disorder can become contentious about whether trigger warnings should be mandated in forums.

In this equation, those who don't want to hide can potentially feel like being asked for a trigger warning is no different than society telling them to cover up for being "unsightly." The forums are seen as a safe space for them to express freely, and a mandated or even requested trigger warning feels oppressive.

Meanwhile, those who would like a trigger warning to help them manage their urges can feel further shamed for their reactions and perceived lack of control. This can lead to feeling ostracized by the very people they had hoped to connect with, resulting in withdrawal and shamed silence. Unfortunately, trigger warning requests for excoriation disorder are sometimes shamed.

This example shows the complicated link between mental health stigma and trigger warnings since both sides could arguably be stigmatizing. Asking people to hide their reality because it's upsetting can be stigmatizing, but so can berating and shaming people for asking for a trigger warning.

How to Navigate Trigger Warnings to Avoid Mental Health Stigma

The takeaway is learning how to navigate trigger warnings to avoid mental health stigma by considering both sides and how people are impacted.

I'm not saying that we all need to agree on trigger warnings. Rather, I mean if we try to better understand them, we can respond better. Instead of getting upset at one side or the other, we can maybe offer advice on how to manage triggers or emphasize that a trigger warning isn't an affront on those who don't need them.

Honestly, I used to be against trigger warnings because I felt that life doesn't come with a warning. To me, it'd be better to prepare for triggers instead of expecting others to know every little thing that might trigger someone else. While I still believe that it's better to prepare oneself by having trigger coping mechanisms for unexpected triggers, I also see the value in helping people. Not everyone copes the same way, so it doesn't hurt to do what I can to positively contribute to the situation.

With that in mind, I encourage others to consider the same: what links are there between mental health stigma and trigger warnings for your particular mental health struggles? What can you do to positively contribute to the situation?

APA Reference
Barton, L. (2020, November 30). The Links Between Mental Health Stigma and Trigger Warnings, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, April 22 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivingmentalhealthstigma/2020/11/the-links-between-mental-health-stigma-and-trigger-warnings



Author: Laura A. Barton

Laura A. Barton is a fiction and non-fiction writer from the Niagara Region in Ontario, Canada. Find her on Twitter, FacebookInstagram, and Goodreads.

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