Trigger warnings pose more problems than they alleviate

Shielding ourselves from material that makes us uncomfortable is a step in the wrong direction

Clayton Tomlinson argues  that trigger warnings are harmful and encourage students to avoid addressing their problems.

Spreading across campuses nationwide is a wave of mental health awareness that has inspired many post-secondary institutions to take measures in combating these issues.

According to statistics released by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), half the population of Canada will have experienced some form of mental illness by the time they reach 40. It’s pretty clear that as we’ve become more aware of the mental health issues that Canadians face, we’re beginning to address them more adequately. 

Evidently, this has encouraged many universities to increase student access to mental health resources. As a result, within classrooms we are seeing an awareness of issues that were previously overlooked. 

However, within these same classrooms there have been increased measures taken to shield people from material that they may find difficult to deal with using trigger warnings. These can often be irksome. It seems to me that they’re a way to simply avoid the issues that students have faced and such avoidance is unhealthy. 

Places that offer comfort, like the Wellness Centre, are a great tool for people who suffer from mental illnesses and other issues of a similar nature. The same can be said for the shift on Canadian campuses that have called for classrooms and student centres to operate as safe spaces. Detractors claim such areas are emblematic of the softening of our society but if a person says they need somewhere to decompress, to get away from all the stressful things that are making matters that much more difficult for them, I don’t see why they shouldn’t be provided with one.

In spite of that, we need to ensure that the right types of measures are taken when trying to offer support to the students who need it.  

Trigger warnings can be seen as a positive because they show that we are valuing the power of mental health issues and the different things that can affect a variety of people, however, they don’t provide any solution to whatever is causing people to need these warnings in the first place. 

Many articles’ content can be inferred from their title and the same can be said for other materials used when teaching difficult lessons in the classroom, therefore deeming trigger warnings unnecessary. 

They serve as a form of bowing out to the problems that students face. It’s a way to let someone anchor themselves to one experience in their life and let that define them.

Articles, books and paintings should be a way for students to engage in an inner dialogue, to ask themselves about what is happening inside their mind and body, so that they can evaluate and assess their reactions to what they’re being exposed to. 

Students need to know themselves. It’s one thing to have a safe space, but it’s another thing to simply refuse to combat the things that are deemed difficult without acknowledging the validity of material that can strike a nerve. 

Life isn’t going to stop happening and a lot of the time as much as we want to avoid topics all our lives, eventually we’ll have to. Different forms of expression should help individuals deal with their issues and all trigger warnings do is allow them to avoid the problem. 

It’s not enough for someone to identify that there is a trigger inside of them because it’ll always have the ability to be pulled, unless addressed.  

I think it’s necessary to combat the issues surrounding mental illness, as both a sufferer and a member of Canadian society, so that it’s possible to move beyond them and not be dragged down by anchors that were never intentionally dropped.  

Trigger warnings prevent this sort of growth. 

I’ve never understood why people feel the need to take on the world by themselves, without help from others. 

Attending Queen’s or any other university, students are very often separated from their home for the very first time. All the support systems they previously had are likely distances away and new ones have yet to be found. 

Seeking support during difficult times is crucial when trying to overcome any problem.

More recently, we’ve seen the introduction of what we need in this era that stresses mental health awareness and sensitivity toward those who are suffering, but it needs to be done in the right way. 

Addressing mental illness on university campuses is definitely a step in the right direction. 

Wellness centres are a great example of this new awareness and directly help not only everyday sufferers but people who just need a break from their stress. 

But, just because society is becoming more equipped to deal with mental health it doesn’t mean that every new step will be in the right direction. 

Trigger warnings are this misstep. They’re like a safety net for people who don’t need one. They don’t promote progress of any form but, rather, allow people to separate themselves from the issues they most direly need to solve.

Clayton Tomlinson is a third-year English major.  

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