Why Trigger Warnings Are So Important

The other day, for the first time in my mental health journey, I understood, fully, what it felt like to be triggered.

Really triggered.

I attended a workshop on mental illness that did not come with a trigger warning.

Of course, prior to my attending I did not know I would need a warning. I didn’t even know I would be affected the way I was.

Initially I was very excited. I had high expectations and an interest in the topic because of my life being affected by mental illness. I am always interested in learning more about self care, how mental illness affects those in my life, and ways to advocate for people touched by mental illness.

I truly had no concerns going into the training for myself, my stability, or my ability to cope with dips in my mood (and I hadn’t for some time).

During the introduction to the training I was not surprised by the statistics the facilitators presented us with, however; the stats were from 4 years prior and seemed very low. I understood that mental illness impacted high numbers in my region and there was no surprise as to how many people were touched by mental illness in my community or families around me.

I live with bipolar every day. I work, sometimes minute by minute, to get through the day, the week, the year with invisible struggles and to understand what mental illness means to me.

So when faced with words of those surrounding me in the training, the stigma coming from their mouths, and the agreement from facilitators  – which continued to perpetuate stigma throughout the community, I felt myself begin to lose focus.

Once the tone changed from discussions regarding the mental health continuum to beliefs those in attendance as well as one of the facilitators held on mental illness I could feel my body beginning to react. Responses like, “my sister suffers from a mental illness and she purposefully manipulates my mother,” and “people who suffer from a mood disorder use their medication to get high or go off of their meds when they feel good so that they can feel the high of mania.”

My eyes began to well with tears and I traced my lips over and over with my finger attempting to bring my heart rate down while I watched one of the facilitators nod in agreement.

I suffer from a mood disorder and this is not my reality.

Using the bathroom as my excuse I took my phone and left.

I texted my entire support system from a stall while I cried harder than I had in a very long time.

I received messages of support back from my best friend, my husband, and another very close friend all encouraging me to leave. They reminded me that a training opportunity was not worth the months of back sliding a trigger could cause.

A trigger.

I made the important decision to remove myself from the training and called my husband for support as I walked to my car.

The emotional wear, sense of embarrassment, and feelings of dread for others that were potentially experiencing feelings like mine but didn’t have the supports or resources in place were overwhelming.

My feelings were so raw. So real.

Something I had not felt in a very, VERY long time.

And I had supports; friends, family, and a team of psychiatrists behind me.

A husband, who could recognize changes in my mental health, takes time away from his job to acknowledge my need for comfort, and friends who were aware of the impact the illness has had on my life.

But, what if?

What if I had none of that?

What if I was someone who went into the training blind? Had no supports, had not acknowledged what I needed, or did not talk about my illness to those in my life?

What if I had left the training after seeing the nods towards the stigma, after being affected by the triggers, and I had spiraled downward?

This is why trigger warnings are so very necessary.

They protect people like me from enduring what we have fought so hard to come back from.

They keep us from that dark hole that we have climbed out of and would do anything to keep from going back to.

4 hours of mental health training will never cover the years I have endured protecting myself from my own brain.

We provide trigger warnings online and throughout social media. On posts about pregnancy and infant loss, suicidal ideation, self harm, and even reviews on television shows that might affect our youth.

Why not for training?

Mental health is about acknowledging your needs and understanding that your journey is on a continuum. Part of this is acknowledging what is healthy for you.

Never be afraid to say no to something that will ultimately affect your progress.

Protecting your mental health is your right.

Understand your limits.

This will benefit you much more than any 4 hour training ever will.

 

 

 

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