MHM Myths – Triggers

So why am I talking about triggers in a MHM Myths post/vlog? Triggers certainly aren’t a myth, but I wanted to talk about an unsettling trend I’ve been noting over the past fews years. That trend is people using the words triggered/triggers/trigger to describe *possibly* upsetting/distressing/emotionally taxing content in things they haven’t seen (books/movies/news stories etc). I wanted to tackle this notion that a trigger is something that can be avoided, and the notion that is merely upsetting or distressing to the person suffering.

Firstly, a trigger comes in two different ways, external and internal. Internal triggers are the most unpredictable and (in my experience) the most frequent and they can be set off by a number of things: emotions/memories/sensations/smells/physical reactions etc. External triggers are sometimes predictable in that sufferers know certain situations to try and avoid, but the important word there is *try*. A great deal of triggering external events are not really avoidable, or you may end up being triggered whether you confront the situation or not, and in different ways. In other words: triggers are neither truly avoidable or predictable. Moreover they are more than merely upsetting or distressing, they are replays of trauma and are therefore *traumatic* and can, as such, make the condition of the sufferer worse.

Secondly, and really the most telling thing of all, is the avoidance side of the equation in the misuse of these words. You choose not to watch/read/experience something that might upset you, but those of us who suffer from being triggered have already been through a trauma we could *not* avoid, which is why we suffer in this fashion. The very real, unavoidable mental, physical and emotional damage we accrued when traumatised is replayed via the medium of triggers. It is a medical term to describe that symptom/outcome. Co-opting it to describe possibly being upset therefore both diminshes the term and leaves it open to unpleasant reinterpretation by those who find themselves uneasy with the victims of trauma.

When people want to avoid (and there’s that word again) dealing with other people’s very real and very uncomfortable pain they will often seek a means of downplaying or diminishing it. When you use the word trigger to describe something that might be upsetting, you offer an option to use the term in a derogatory fashion to those who don’t want to acknowledge its existence. They can then deride and downplay the very real suffering of someone with PTSD for example by dismissing them as someone who simply ‘gets upset about anything’.

If we are to tackle stigma, if we are to tackle reactions to mental health, if we are to improve services and responses to those suffering from mental illnesses etc, we need to be taking these terms seriously and using them correctly. Otherwise there is a real possibility that they can be used to further damage the cause of those whose only hope for help is in being taken seriously and not dismissed, derided, or diminished.

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