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Resource: What Is A Trigger?

*This is one of a series of posts we are planning for our readers to use as a tool to help someone in their life better understand the tenets of mental health.
Trigger warning: Brief discussion of common triggers such as PTSD, Death of a loved one, self harm/suicide, and sexual assault

man grabbing his head

Content warning.

Trigger warning.

If you’re triggered by…

Triggers include…

Have you ever heard any of the previous and found yourself with the question, “What does that mean?”

Admittedly, I learned in a very immature way by reading fan fiction back in middle school. Nowadays, I most often hear a similar phrase when listening to podcasts ranging from true crime, mental health or comedy. They serve as a way to give a heads-up to people who may live with the aftermath of trauma.

For example, a common trigger warning is suicide. Below, I will give more detail, but the Reader’s Digest version is, someone who may have attempted suicide or known someone who may have completed suicide might not be ready to hear others openly talk about their experience with it. Giving the warning ahead of time allows an individual to decide if he or she needs to skip ahead to a different subject.

distressed woman in bathtub

Common triggers include:


Standing for post-traumatic stress disorder, this is commonly associated with war veterans. It should be noted this trauma goes beyond a normal stressor and can be induced by disaster, war, emotion, tragedy, assault, etc. The National Institute for Mental Health (4) says those who live with PTSD experience, “persistent, frightening thoughts and memories of the event(s), experience sleep problems, feel detached or numb, or may be easily startled. In severe forms, PTSD can significantly impair a person’s ability to function at work, at home, and socially.”

In some cases, if a PTSD trigger warning is issued, specifics are given such as situations revolving around toxic work environments, surviving a hurricane or claustrophobia.

two men holding hands

Death of a loved one

I had a high school teacher who, among many quirky phrases, used to say, “we ain’t gettin’ out of this alive folks.” We can blame his status as the philosophy guru for his off-hand way of looking at life but frankly, death is something we will all have to deal with at some point in our lives; though, very little can prepare us for how we will react.

Grief hits us all differently. For some, it is a clear process that leads to acceptance. For others, it is suppressed to the point of snapping. Bottling up emotions for us to later deal with is not ideal or healthy, but unfortunately this is how some people react.

By giving a heads up of an impending death related discussion, you are helping to keep others out of a dark headspace. This can be the death of a friend, a family member or even a pet because they all have a way of weaving their way back into our psyche.

Self harm/Suicide

There are many reasons people may find themselves in a self-harming situation. Ultimately, it is about control. In some cases, people end up in dark places they feel they can not get out of, and ending their life is the only way for it to be okay. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (1), between 1999 and 2016, the number of successful suicides rose 30%. More striking, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (2) reported an estimated 1.4 million people attempted suicide in 2017.

This, as a trigger, serves to warn people about the impending discussion on how they got to that dark place. Even for someone who does not suffer from this trigger, it can be draining to hear so it is best to not forget to issue the warning.

woman luis galvez

Sexual Assault

The #MeToo movement has brought to light quite a bit of people’s struggle with sexual assault and harassment. One of the most important things to note is sexual assault is not just a man assaulting a woman. Predators know no gender. Sexual crimes know no single offense or age. A statistic published by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (3) states 81% of women and 35% of men report long-term effects of sexual assault (i.e. PTSD).

Similar to PTSD, giving individuals a sexual assault trigger warning can prevent them from having to relive their experience while listening to others process theirs.

Triggers can be tricky. The unfortunate reality is no one walks around with a sign on their forehead telling those around them to tread lightly with certain topics. The best we can do is be open and respectful of others when conversing, try to find a middle ground and offer support when someone has been triggered.

Emily Ridener

A few words about me

There are quite a few mottos I like to sling around including but not limited to, “Life is short, eat the cupcake,” “What would Wednesday do?” and perhaps most importantly, “What’s so great about normal?” I don’t approve of people who put others down because society has taught us they are “less” and I choose to use my words to share truth, do no harm, and combat ignorance.