THE BLOG

What Are Trigger Warnings?

05/01/2016 16:11 GMT | Updated 05/01/2017 10:12 GMT

#ExploreMH is a series of articles and YouTube videos aimed at breaking down the stigma that surrounds Mental Health. You can watch the accompanying video by clicking here.

When you watch TV during the day, you might hear the announcer say "The following programme contains scenes of an adult nature." I would call this a content warning rather than a trigger warning. "Adult Nature" is a bit vague but it enables the viewer to decide whether it is suitable to watch, given that its half term and little Timmy is there. Trigger Warnings are similar. They enable you to make an informed decision about whether to watch or read the programme or article. I feel the difference is that rather than a vague warning "this might have something in it that isn't suitable for youngsters", trigger warnings tend to be a list of keywords or topics that could trigger a reaction.

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Lets use an example. Let's say you suffer from PTSD after a nasty event in your life. At the top of the video or article would be the Trigger Warnings, normally TW and then the list of keywords or topics. You can then decide whether you feel well enough to continue. You might decide that you'd prefer to avoid it or maybe give yourself a few days and then watch or read it.

Trigger warnings enable you to make informed decisions whether you feel you can or cannot expose yourself to that difficult subject.There are lots of spinoff questions that come from this - and as long as you are open, honest and understanding your questions, comments and feedback is more than welcome. I'll cover two questions before we wrap up: Firstly, what do we mean by trigger? At some point you will have watched a TV show with your parents or your Nan and some kinky sex scene will appear. You cringe. At the least harmful end of the spectrum, that is a reaction to a trigger. I am the son of an alcoholic. My mother drank herself to death. After many years and few attempts at counselling, I am OK to talk, read or watch something on that subject. However, the 13 year old me would not be.

Trigger warnings mean rather than walking into something blind and then reacting to it, perhaps in my case causing a depressive episode with self harm, I could make an informed decision.

When writing my blog or on The Huffington Post, I try to give an idea of what is to come in the headline and the first paragraph. I prefer this to a list of keywords as it gives some context. I generally like the idea of trigger warnings because it empowers you, the reader.However, I would like a universally agreed format or method for it. For example, here in the UK, most food has a traffic light system showing the amount of fat or salt there in the product. There is an agreed standard for what equals yellow and what equals red and how the icons appear. I'd like that.

Perhaps before an article, video or TV show we could all show the TW and list of keywords. The words that appear first are the trigger topics that are covered in the most detail whereas words at the end of the list are just 'mentioned' and carry a lower risk of triggering? OR is the headline and first paragraph enough? On a programme like EastEnders where difficult subjects are always tackled would Trigger Warnings help everyone regardless of their mental health or just deter people from watching?

Should we campaign for the wider use of Trigger warnings as it would benefit everyone - not just those with a mental health problem?

I hope that by openly discussing these points with you, we can together fight the stigma. Please discuss in the comments below.

Need help? In the UK, call The Samaritans free on 116 123. Alternatively, further information plus legal support lines are available from MIND, the mental health charity, at www.mind.org.uk

Please also support the TIME TO CHANGE campaign on stigma at http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/

Matt Streuli is a blogger, actor and YouTuber who is passionate about mental health and his local community. He has made a career in customer service, entertainment and customer care. He is the Chairman and dame of the Iver Heath Drama Club in South Bucks.

In his spare time, he hosts The Matt Streuli Show on Southwaves Radio (Thursday 8pm) and lives near Pinewood Studios on the edge of London. His website is www.MattStreuli.uk