Trigger Warning? Everything’s Apparently a Trigger for Someone

I saw a strange app alert from USA Today this week. It included a phrase that seems to be growing more common these days: ‘Trigger warning.’

USA Today sent an app alert Wednesday morning about one of its stories. The story wasn’t breaking news; it, instead, was a feature about suicide.

The alert read, “My mom’s suicide changed everything. This is how I found hope again. [Trigger warning]”

Yes, trigger warning, in brackets, was part of the alert.

How curious. I’ll come back to that in a moment.

What’s a trigger warning, anyway?

Merriam-Webster defines the term as “a statement cautioning that content (as in a text, video, or class) may be disturbing or upsetting.”

It’s designed to give someone who might prefer some kind of heads-up about potentially upsetting material before they encounter it. So if you’re someone who is sensitive to a particular subject, you might like to have a trigger warning that a piece deals with that subject before you jump in so you can decide for yourself before you ever begin reading it.

Years ago, I was diagnosed with panic disorder. There was a brief period, about 13 years ago or so, when I had a major panic attack. The cause of that anxiety was fear over a visit to a neurologist. In a nutshell, I had a pinched nerve in my elbow, but I was scared it was something much worse and those fears went a bit out of control. 

Panic attacks — for those who’ve never experienced one — are absolutely no joke.

So I do understand that you’d want to prevent someone prone to them from having one.

But it just strikes me that in this case, they missed the mark just a bit.

Back to that little alert.

I was curious when I read the alert about the trigger warning they were trying to warn people about.

If they were afraid the notion of suicide might trigger uncomfortable feelings, wouldn’t the alert already have done so, since the word suicide came before the warning?

And even without the actual words trigger warning, if suicide itself is a legitimate trigger, did they really need to point out a story that is blatantly about suicide might be a trigger?

It’d be one thing if the story had been about suicide, but the alert didn’t include that word. For example, if the text had read, “My mom’s sudden death changed everything. This is how I found hope again. [Trigger warning],” that might at least make sense because you wouldn’t know from that headline that the “sudden death” had been the result of a suicide.

But when they come right out and tell you that this is a story on that subject, the “trigger” is already right in front of those who they worry might be easily triggered to begin with.

I get what they were trying to do here. I guess you have to give them an A for effort, even if they fall short in the execution.

1 Comment

  1. Like when you trip on a crack in the sidewalk, and a companion, looking down to you as you’re lying on the concrete, says, “Be careful!” 🙂

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.