Read With Care

By Samantha Armstrong

Trigger warning: this article contains information about sexual assault, suicide and/or violence, which may be triggering to survivors.

Trigger warnings, like the one above, can be alarming for some. For others, they are a lifeline.  As difficult conversations open up, trigger warnings are becoming not just common etiquette, but increasingly mandatory.

According to Mental Health America, 17-35 percent of college students in the United States have reported self-harming and 25 percent have reported suffering from an eating disorder.

Young people are experiencing a rise in recorded cases of mental illness while voraciously consuming media and entertainment that could “trigger” these illnesses.

The rising popularity of the novel and Netflix original series, “Thirteen Reasons Why,” has sparked controversy among students due to the triggering content.

From the beginning of “Thirteen Reasons Why,” we know that the protagonist, Hannah Baker, has already taken her own life.

The Netflix series displays graphic scenes that veered away from the content in the novel.

Nina Dunn, a junior at Youngstown State University, said that in Jay Asher’s novel by the same name, readers are never told exactly how Hannah killed herself, only that there’s a rumor going around the school that she overdosed.

On the other hand, the last episode in the Netflix series shows Hannah committing suicide by gruesomely slitting her wrists in the bathtub.

“That makes the wrist-cutting scene in the show an invention of the shows’ writers, and one that could potentially be harmful to viewers who are struggling themselves,” Dunn said.

In addition to suicide and self-harm, the novel and television series also depicts scenes of sexual assault, which could trigger victims who may suffer from post-traumatic stress, Dunn said.

Devyn Appugliese, a YSU psychology graduate, takes a psychologist’s perspective when referring to triggering content.

“I think there are countless trigger warnings in media, mostly because everything is so relative and affects us each differently,” Appugliese said. “But with shows like “Thirteen Reasons Why,” it may encourage those with mental health problems in negative ways.”

Appugliese said that the reason triggering content may be dangerous is because many people don’t speak up when they’re experiencing complications with their mental well-being.

“Referring to potentially serious content as something that could cause mere ‘discomfort’ de-legitimizes someone’s experience, it’s more serious than that,” Appugliese said. “Because of that and since it is almost impossible to omit all sensitive content from media, I completely support the use of trigger warnings.”

The “Wall Street Journal” recently published an opinion piece that criticized contemporary young-adult fiction for its “overly grim portrayal of teenage life.”

According to “Entertainment Weekly,”Asher was displeased with the Wall Street Journal’s article.

“They mention suicide. When I saw that word I was like, ‘Okay, I can take offense officially now,’” Asher said to Entertainment Weekly. “When I first heard about it I just rolled my eyes. I was like, ‘Here we go again.’ When I read it, yeah, I got very upset, just because I know what she was describing is not teen literature in its entirety at all, and yet it makes it sound like that … If they’re saying it’s a bad thing, then I’m going to be more cautious about letting my child read it.”

While Asher stands by the content of his novel, a trigger warning before the show’s title or before the first page of the book would not impede the writer’s artistic freedom, said Appugliese.

Appugliese said that trigger warnings create an alert about the context in discussion that could possibly prompt traumatic memories or responses.

“They are not designed to censor material, only to protect the people who may be sensitive to the content,” Appugliese said.