Counterpoint: Should trigger warnings be implemented in U.S. high schools?

Dylan Schor, Contributing Writer

Throughout the last few decades, new knowledge concerning mental health has been uncovered. With increased awareness of mental illnesses, which can be seen in the development of organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), came an onslaught of new preventive measures with varying levels of efficacy. 

One major step that is being taken in high schools and colleges across the U.S. is the use of trigger warnings, which are alerts given at the beginning of lectures, videos, or readings, that warn people of potentially sensitive subject matters. The immediate benefits of this are obvious, as people who suffer from mental issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from abuse or assault will not have to go through the experience of reliving their terrible memories. 

“You never know what some people have endured in their lives or what they feel strongly about,” said junior Derrick Weisberg.

Many others share this sentiment and this is certainly a valid point, as seen by the widespread nature of common stigmas pertaining to mental illness that place negative labels on those affected. It is also an unfortunate reality that few people feel comfortable or have the ability to help someone who has been triggered and is a dangerous mental state. 

It is important to acknowledge, though, that discussion is essential. In a 2016 article from The New York Times, Harvard psychology professor and PTSD expert Dr. Richard McNally discussed how trigger warnings are actually counter-therapeutic. This is because they encourage individuals to avoid reminders of trauma, and such continuous avoidance contributes to the maintenance of PTSD. In this way, the recovery of an individual suffering from his/her past trauma may be hindered precisely because of exposure to such trigger warnings.

“I can personally say that the way to get over your problems is never to ignore them, but to confront them,” said an anonymous sophomore.  “In order to know that there is a problem, you have to be exposed to it. In order to solve it, you have to surround yourself in it. There was a time where all I could think about was an experience I’d rather not go into. It would haunt me all day, every day. But I had to overcome it, otherwise I’d live in a life of fear and hiding. I went to therapy, and learned how to live with my problem. Not around it. Now, I’m much better.”

Many times, communication is the most effective way to solve a problem. A civil discussion that has the potential to cause an unhealthy or terrified reaction for some is still an important discussion that needs to take place, according to numerous experts.

“My opinion of trigger warnings is that the point is not to live around triggers, it’s to work through them. The ultimate treatment goal is to reduce the impact they have. You have to learn to live a life that’s fulfilling, not a life that’s safe. A fulfilling life is not always what’s comfortable,” said Dr. Mark Glat, phD and psychology professor at Princeton University. 

Instead of trigger warnings, which really only serve as a small hurdle to overcoming mental illness, it is important to explore other potential solutions. One method highs schools across the country could explore is an increase in education on the subject, by expanding the curriculum in health classes, or by holding school-wide assemblies on the topic. Similarly to the hands-on approach taken when teaching C.P.R., students and teachers should be taught how to handle a breakdown or panic attack in situations of crisis. Additionally, all high schools in the U.S. should also mandate on-campus access to a psychologist, so students who are suffering can learn how to handle these tough situations so they can overcome them and become a better person. Although Schreiber is fortunate enough to have two psychologists, Dr. Joan Bester and Dr. Eric Class, not all high schools throughout America are as lucky.

Simply ignoring a problem does not make it go away. If someone is the victim of assault or some other type of trauma, not talking about it and repressing it can only make it worse in the long run. This is why it is extremely important for students to learn how to handle these situations because in the real world, you cannot always “beat around the bush” by using trigger warnings.

“Survivors of trauma should be able to live without a constant warning about a trigger to a bad memory or experience,” said sophomore Daniel Ruskin.  “It is important for people to know how to tolerate living after a traumatic experience, and trigger warnings don’t help people with this.”  

Nevertheless, there are an innumerable amount of opinions about what to do on this controversial matter, and regardless of how schools move forward, there are bound to be issues. Regardless, trigger warnings can be a tremendous detriment to one’s mental health, as well as all the progress that has been made by our progressive society. It is necessary to take additional steps to combat this problem, which poses a threat not only to high schoolers but to humanity as a whole. 

By no means is mental illness a new concept. The practice of reducing the stigma and legitimately treating it, however, is relatively new. In reality, trigger warnings seem like they’re from an era of the past, as they are ignoring and pushing problems away until they don’t exist. For this reason, we must move forward and find a modern solution for this age-old problem.