The importance of Trigger Warnings

I expect Universities to be places of enlightened thinking
The University of Chicago flunked the test

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
A Mental Health Awareness Post

A Trigger Warning is no different from a RATING

A Trigger Warning is NOT content censorship – it is a WARNINGPeriod.  It allows for the use of coping strategies by those students who need them.

It is absolutely insane to put forth some black and white argument expressing fear that supporting its use in ANY circumstance will facilitate its application to all situations where some student might take offense.

  • Few thinking individuals are up in arms about impinging on the rights of people who want to watch certain types of films simply because they are rated X to guide those who do not.
  • Rational people do not insist that the ban on guns in schools be lifted, holding up 2nd Amendment Rights  (the right to bear arms, for my non-American readers).

And yet, The University of Chicago sent out a letter to incoming Freshman outlining their [non] logic as they disclose that they will not support the use of Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces on their campus.

Rather than using this issue as a chance to increase Mental Health Awareness, which is to be expected from any institution claiming education as its purpose, The University of Chicago has chosen to issue what amounts to a gag order.

We have a L-O-N-G way to go where educating people about Mental Health is concerned – but for a University to be so blatantly unaware is both frightening and appalling. I’d yank my kid out of that “educational” environment in a heartbeat!

Why all the fuss?

Regular readers are aware of the reasons for my reluctance to use the WordPress reblog function – so I hope you will jump over to the posts below to read the rest of the excellent points surrounding the words quoted below.

In her introduction, Maisha Z. Johnson explains the issue in terms anybody might easily be able to understand, EVEN the decision-makers at The University of Chicago, especially John Ellison, U of C dean of students (who is declining to respond to emails, etc. by the way).

THAT would mean, of course, that they’d bothered to upgrade their egregious lack of education about mental health issues before responding in what I feel strongly is a cruel and ignorant fashion.

Two college students return to campus after both were present for an act of violence.

One of them was physically injured in the incident. In order to return to class, he asks to have space around his desk to allow him to stretch, because sitting still for too long would aggravate his injury.

How would you feel about his request? Would you understand why such an accommodation would help him heal? Expect his professors to oblige?

Now, the other student’s pain isn’t visible – it’s emotional.

He wasn’t physically hurt, but he lost a loved one, and he’s traumatized. Certain reminders have resulted in panic attacks, and he’d rather not experience that again – especially not when he’s trying to move on with his life and get an education.

So he also makes a request, asking his professors if they can give him a warning before covering material that relates to the type of violence that took away his loved one.

How would you feel about this student’s request?

What he’s asking for is a content warning, also commonly called a trigger warning. And it’s a huge source of debate.

. . . when it comes to an able-bodied person experiencing a temporary injury and needing support to heal, there’s usually not much debate about whether or not they should be allowed in class with crutches, a cast, or extra space around their desk.

The sharp contrast between this acceptance and common attitudes towards trigger warnings reveals something disturbing about our society’s approach to trauma and mental illness.

Read more of this post . . .

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Isn’t it PAST time we ended mental health stigma?

Found HERE

And isn’t it appropriate to expect that our schools and Universities would lead the Mental Health education charge, not make things worse?

As I told you in a prior post, The Importance of a Diagnosis:

Nearly 44 million American adults, along with millions of children, struggle with “mental health” conditions each year, ranging from anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ASD, OCD, PTSD, TBI to ADD/EFD and more.

According to NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Health), nearly 1 in 5 adults in the United States have experienced impaired mental health in the last year alone, and 21% of all prisoners have a recent history of a mental health condition.

And I’ll bet you a year’s free coaching that those statistics represent only the tip of the mental health iceberg because
so many individuals are afraid to admit they are struggling.

And yet, the University of Chicago feels that forcing their faculty to keep mental health needs and mental health topics locked away in a closet is a legitimate approach. For SHAME! (and regular readers know I usually disapprove of the use of that s-word).

Springing potentially PTSD or panic-attack triggering content on unsuspecting students is what I consider “cruel and unusual” treatment that could easily be avoided with a few well-considered trigger warnings.

However, Julie A. Winterich, an associate professor of sociology and the director of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Guilford College, reminds us in her article, A Middle Ground on Trigger Warnings, that “what preparing oneself looks like differs based on where each specific student is in the healing process.”

“As noted by Mental Health America, people can have very different reactions. One student may need to seek counseling, while another may need to focus on mindfulness techniques and other strategies before coming to class. And yet another may need to skip class altogether.”

She explains her approach in her article, and asserts that students are still responsible for missed content, just as they would be if they missed class for a physical health reason.

Another Academic Rings In

has this to say about it on his post entitled UChicago’s anti-safe spaces letter isn’t about academic freedom. It’s about power.

As a faculty member, I would be enormously dismayed if my dean sent this letter to my incoming students. Because now they’ll come into my class already having received a clear message about what my institution seems to value — and it isn’t them.

The Chicago letter reeks of arrogance, of a sense of entitlement, of an exclusionary mindset — in other words, the very things it seeks to inveigh against. It’s not about academic freedom; it’s about power. Know your place, and acknowledge ours, it tells the students. We’ll be the judge of what you need to know and how you need to know it.

And professors and students are thus handcuffed to a high-stakes ideological creed. Do it this way, in the name of all that is holy and true in the academy. There is no room here for empathy, for student agency, or for faculty discretion.

Read More of this Post . . .

A Mental Health Blogger’s personal point of view

The author of the excellent Pride in Madness blog has this to say in her article on the topic, How Trigger Warnings Help Me:

The argument against using trigger warnings in a classroom environment is that students should be able to just deal with what triggers them and to have trigger warnings is to limit freedom.

While I do believe that exposing ourselves to our triggers can loosen its power over us that is something we need to decide for ourselves. We decide where and when, how much or how little and who is with us when we do it.

Having the exposure sprung on us in the middle of a lecture surrounded by random classmates and a professor who potentially lacks understanding is not the time to do it. A professor does not get to decide when we face our triggers. We decide that.

Read more of this post . . .

Mental health STIGMA has been allowed to run rampant!

People suffering from even common mental health diagnoses have been put in a position of shame because of their supposed mental “shortcomings” — and every single person who passes on the stigma or fails to call it out as bad, wrong and awful when they witness it has put them there.

I sincerely hope that the remainder of the colleges and Universities will not only refuse to follow in U of C’s misguided footsteps, but that they will ring out in censure. 

I would like to read that they have send letters to their incoming freshmen that they support the needs of ALL of their students.

Trigger warnings take only a second from class time as they increase Mental Health awareness, but they give students who might be triggered a chance to gird their loins.

How is that impinging on the objectives of educational institutions in the slightest?


And don’t forget that Peer Coaching help is on the way:

Please don’t wait ’til the last minute to let me know that you are interested in Peer Coaching Basic Training (to get off the fee-based treadmill).

The next training is scheduled to begin in September, but only if it makes its minimum enrollment. Waiting to find out makes everybody really nervous – especially me!

MY SINCERE APOLOGIES to anyone who has already sent me an e-form expressing interest in this training without hearing a word in response. Following today’s e-glut weeding I located a some email alerting me to the existence of blog feedback forms. I am SO sorry.

I will be getting in touch in the afternoon and early evening as I find additional form notifications — or you can leave me a comment below (using the same email address so I can use the e-search box for your contact details).

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

39 Responses to The importance of Trigger Warnings

  1. Thanks for this informative post. I often wondered about trigger words and felt overwhelmed by the concept. While wanting to help those who suffer, it seemed counter-intuitive to censor all speech of all possible trigger words.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree – but the point is a trigger *warning* about potential trouble with certain topics – so that those likely to get triggered by the words you share about the subject can be prepared to use whatever systems they’ve developed to remain present (physically and/or mentally).

      Why jump out and shout BOO at someone “nervous nelly” who is actually suffering from anxiety or panic disorder – just because it’s Halloween and you want the right to celebrate? (to attempt a truly dreadful analogy)

      I agree, it’s another thing entirely when one feels expected to walk on eggshells, having to carefully censure vocabulary in case someone *might* be triggered by a particular word – probably impossible, in any case.

      But it doesn’t take much thinking to understand that warning ALL of your students of an upcoming lecture on, for example, the Manson murders might be appropriate.

      Best strategy, in an ideal world, would be for someone struggling with PTSD etc. to quietly explain to their professors (etc.) their need for a trigger warning on “topic X” – not to *change* what’s about to come, simply to be given time to prepare for it.

      I don’t understand why U. of Chicago is not able to understand and accommodate that need. Never will.

      Thanks for reading, Christoph and taking the time to ring in. I doubt that you need to worry much about triggering pain in others – you write so empathically.


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  3. Very informative. Thank you for the information.

    Liked by 1 person

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  6. To THE POWERS THAT BEAT – a copy of a comment left under the reblog on their site as well:
    I am so grateful for this reblog of an older, but still relevant article on an extremely important issue. It is troubling how little Mental Health awareness and empathy exists still, especially in America.

    That the University of Chicago should be SO ill informed they would send a “tough luck” letter to their incoming Freshman, informing them of an unconscionable policy change, needs to be spread far and wide.

    Things will *never* change for the better until those of us who are TRULY educated and aware ring in with censure for ignorant actions of this type – and explain *why* their actions are so harmful to so many.

    Thank you SO much for being part of the solution with this reblog.


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  9. tmezpoetry says:

    Reblogged this on Tammy Mezera and commented:
    I’m always learning new things from fellow bloggers and appreciate Madelyn’s blog~

    Liked by 1 person

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  11. An interesting topic and article! I almost went to school there! lol

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Another great article from you, some very interesting information, and a great list of resources! ((Not sure if my last message went through, I was using the mobile app)) Thank you very much for linking to my article, it’s greatly appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. PorterGirl says:

    This is an unusual step by the University of Chicago! I would have thought that mental health would have been very near the top of their priorities – unsupported students do not get good grades! By the way, I happen to know Americans who would LOVE to lift the ban on guns in schools, but as you say, they are not altogether rational 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • lol – not rational in the slightest! Guns have NO place in schools – especially given the school gun tragedies. I’m sorry to hear you’ve run into Americans who believe that kids who can’t even get a license to DRIVE, for pete sakes, are responsible enough to own a gun (and bring it to school!) I watch British telly on Hulu, and I’m always amazed that even the cops in your country rarely carry.

      I promise that ALL Americans are not gun-totting cowboys – but I’ve known my share who are 2nd Amendment voters because they don’t trust our government – as if a militia would be able to stop drones, etc. if it ever came to that. Heaven help us!

      I agree – unusual step indeed by U of C (even worse, they have more than a few defenders) I think I made my position on their nonsense pretty clear already. They’re not really thinking MUCH about student welfare, it seems to me. Thanks for ringing in.

      Liked by 1 person

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