Wednesday 26 October 2016

TV Trigger Warnings

(TW: this post is about trigger warnings but has mention of mental illness and suicide. Please don't read it if you think you'll be negatively affected! Stay safe)

Recently I was watching Coronation Street, and I was thoroughly engrossed in the current David Platt storyline. If you don't know, his wife was recently killed and he was planning a murder-suicide and was generally in the midst of a breakdown that resulted in him almost killing his daughter and a few other characters. So now you know - and genuinely, I wasn't triggered by this but the whole thing was dark and heavily focused on David's "madness" (note the virtual air quotes) and planned suicide and I thought, this time two years ago I would have been. This time two years ago it would have me scratching at my skin and thinking.

At the end of the episode came the usual mainstream-TV thing of "if any of the issues in this program have affected you, please go to *insert own website name here* for advice on who you can speak to about this". And this irks me; I'm not denying that it's important to offer said advice, to make sure people know there's somebody they can talk to about things, but it all seems a bit like covering your own back. I get it - you've got to do it, and it's good that you're not brushing it under the carpet. But a certain phrase about horses and doors and bolting springs to mind.

why we need trigger warnings on TV

I think it's time TV recognised the need for trigger warnings. Hear me out - if they've recognised that the topic in their show is sensitive enough that people might need to talk to somebody about it, then surely they've recognised that it's something that's going to upset people. And maybe in something like a soap, as a regular viewer you'd know before watching it that the episode is going to focus heavily on - for example - suicidal thoughts. But if you're not a regular viewer, or it's a one-off drama rather than something that's been going for years, then you might have absolutely no idea of the plot line or the themes.

So surely it makes sense to warn people beforehand that the topics are sensitive, that they may need to seek advice or somebody to talk to afterwards, that they might want to avoid watching it altogether to protect themselves. Yeah, you might not want to lose ratings - but warning somebody off watching one episode that could put them in danger means they're more likely to come back and carry on watching - it means you've got their respect, because you haven't knowingly upset people when you could easily have warned them beforehand.

I don't know - I just feel strongly about this sort of thing, from my own experience with mental illness. I think it's important to let people know if something could or is likely to upset them, trigger them, hurt them. I know, "life doesn't come with trigger warnings" but sometimes it can, and I don't see why you wouldn't bother.

What are your thoughts on using trigger warnings on mainstream TV?


  1. I definitely think they need to, especially with airing films on TV. I've watched so many films/seen so many shows that have just sprung self harm on me with no prelude or warning and it really impacts me. I hate it and it can stay in my mind for days or weeks. If I knew I would avoid it, and I know that there re others who are far more easily triggered than me who would feel worse!

    Steph -

  2. I think they need to add warnings at the beginning. I mean some shows like The Walking Dead, they say there is gore or whatever, and let you know. But, I still feel it needs to be a bit more...specific, but that balance of being specific without being too spoilery because people will find a way to whine that they're being spoiled for the show by the warnings and whatnot.

    But yes, I would know to avoid that ep if something may trigger me.

    Meg | Elmpetra

  3. I watch a lot of true crime documentaries and they'll quite often say before "this programme contains scenes that may be disturbing to some viewers". Come to think of it, I've seen that on the news quite a bit too.