This is a guest post from Adiba Jaigirdar. Adiba is an Irish-Bangladeshi writer, poet, and teacher. She resides in Dublin, has an MA in postcolonial studies, and loves to read everything and anything. Follow her on Twitter @adiba_j.
Trigger warnings are a debate that have been around for a while now. Do we need them? Are they censorship? Shouldn’t people just get over it and stop feeling like they deserve special attention?
Those are usually the type of issues that come to the surface during these debates. Recently, the trigger warning debate has been gaining traction within the book community, and with writers in general, with some claiming that they would – under no circumstances – give in to them. As if trigger warnings are somehow being forced down their throat, against their will.
I remember a friend in college who had descended to tears after reading a book that graphically detailed rape. The book came with no trigger warnings, and led to a deterioration in her mental health that meant she had to take a few days off from her classes. But somehow, asking for this to be stopped leads people to be shocked and horrified.
The ignorance around the trigger warning discussion, I believe, is because of the lack of a nuanced discussion about mental health. People are quick to jump the gun, and state that if you are triggered, maybe you shouldn’t be reading, or frequenting the internet, or doing any number of ordinary things that people do on a daily basis. As if having a past trauma means you should stop living your life, in order to cater those who don’t want trigger warnings in their media.
But books are people’s comfort zones. For better or for worse, we consume media because they give us an escape from our everyday lives – whether this is to escape to romance novels or dystopian fiction. The importance is that the choice rests with the reader. And if a reader has had traumatic experiences that has led to triggers, they reserve the right to have reading as a part of their comfort zone. The idea that having triggers – which is actually a pretty normal thing for many people who suffer from mental health issues – should either get over it, or stop living their everyday lives, is downright ridiculous.
Moreover, trigger warnings are not something that writers are actively being asked to include in their works. Rather, it’s a choice that some writers are choosing to include in order to make their books more accessible. In the same way that we should advocate for buildings to have wheelchair access, I think we should be advocating for trigger warnings. While one advocates for the ease and inclusion of the physically disabled, the other advocates for the ease and inclusion of those with a mental health disorder.
Another issue that has been raised in regards to trigger warnings and books is that they can lead to spoilers. But we should all be more concerned about the detrimental effect on the mental health of our readers that our books can cause, than spoilers. More than that, books should be more than one gratuitous violent scene – and they should be more than one plot twist that everything hinges on. At the end of the day, a trigger warning, even in the form of a “spoiler” can uplift many reader’s experiences.
I will be the first to say that I always appreciate trigger warnings, whether they come from the author themselves, or the larger book community in the form of social media, or even reviews. Sometimes, a trigger warning will lead to a decision to not read a book. Other times, it means I go into a book with my own mental preparation, and am better able to handle the material. But it has always been helpful, and always been appreciated.