When I decided last month to sniff my favorite Netflix drama, a surprising message flashed on the screen. Before the first episode, the actors became out of character and they seriously made the following statement: "This program contains content that some viewers may find embarrassing."
They said a special website was created to help us deal with the sensitive & # 39; s & # 39; s & # 39; that may occur.
My evening settlement routine had suddenly become stressful. My heartbeat began to thunder and my fingertips tingle while I anticipated the disturbing scenes that I was going to experience.
TV trigger alerts are broadcast prior to news reports, documentaries and even soap operas, because some experts believe that avoiding disturbing scenes could reduce copy-cat incidents
The American TV series 13 reasons why the debt got in 2017 for an increase in American suicides among teenagers
The program was the controversial 13 Reasons Why series, which in 2017 was blamed for an increase in American suicides in teenagers due to the graphic representation of self-damaging methods.
Such warnings are apparently considered necessary by some mental health professionals to prevent copy-cat incidents, I learned.
But in recent weeks I have noticed that these warnings are not only reserved for these most serious situations. They are also not seen before particularly moving news messages. Hundreds of documentaries, series and soaps are now running their programs with so-called trigger warnings.
Students at Cambridge University are even warned of gore and violence in Shakespeare texts, and American students have been asked to be warned of references to suicide in Ms. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf.
Some writers are now preparing readers for their tricky online articles by writing "#triggerwarning" before the first sentence, and smartphone apps filter troubling images from Google searches.
Proponents of these measures say that the messages are necessary to protect the mentally unwell. They say that content that reminds viewers or readers of a disturbing or traumatic time can cause disturbing flashbacks.
Some researchers say this is a special concern for patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, which affects an estimated 3 percent of the British.
But given my visceral, anxious reaction, I have difficulty believing that they are useful. And judging by a recent cascade of psychological research, it seems that I am right.
Psychologists in New Zealand recently asked 1,300 volunteers to watch a disturbing video of a fatal car accident.
Half were warned of the graphic content before the start of the film, and the other half were not.
All participants were equally emotionally moved; the advance warning made no difference.
"Trigger warnings are not useful for the mental health of most people," says Nick Gray, a clinical psychologist at NHS Sussex Partnership. "They ask people to be alert when they don't have to."
And far from being just useless, trigger warnings can even be harmful to the vulnerable people they need to help.
If you are ready to be stressed, you will be
One of the first studies published on trigger warnings produced rather ironic results. Scientists at Harvard University discovered that warning students of upcoming worrying passages in the Dostoyevsky book Crime And Punishment increased mental stress during reading and immediately afterwards.
Measurements of anxiety also showed a clear increase – similar to my experience. A follow-up experiment showed that the same applied to victims of trauma, even when the traumatic experience of test subjects was similar to that on screen.
A reason for the effect is, according to scientists, a psychological concept known as priming. This refers to a stimulation that prepares the mind for a specific psychological emotion – in this case feeling afraid or anxious.
Kimberly Wilson, a chartered psychologist who works in London, explains: "Your attitude to something can modulate the amount of stress you feel about something. So if you are warned that something will get you traumatized, it is more likely that that reaction will be triggered. It essentially ensures that people expect pain and sorrow. And even if what you see reflects your personal trauma, it may not even have occurred to you if it was not for the warning. & # 39;
Indeed, Harvard researchers discovered that, for those who were emotionally vulnerable, warnings gave the survivors the idea that their trauma was central to their identity.
In other words, the warning served as cruel memories.
This is particularly worrying for people with mental illness, according to Wilson. "Studies show that people with depression or anxiety are already ready to find negativity more easily. This not only causes them to reach the worst conclusion sooner, it also increases the feeling of accident. If a vulnerable brain is told that it expects negativity, it can lead to the worst possible conclusion. & # 39;
But it may be good to visit your trauma again
It is estimated that one in three British adults has experienced a traumatic experience, according to the Mental Health Foundation.
And three in every 100 are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, characterized by intense flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, and the avoidance of activities related to the event. Although triggers can be useless, forcing people to cope with the expectation of difficulties and creating unnecessary anxiety, it can also be useful to actively confront your trauma.
One of the best investigated interventions for the treatment of trauma-related psychological problems – recommended by health watchdog NICE – is a type of talk therapy called exposure therapy. With the help of a therapist, patients revisit the traumatic memory in detail and gradually introduce themselves to the experiences they avoid, such as driving a car or watching a certain television program.
Studies show that when patients can consciously confront their painful memories, anxiety and anxiety disappear, reducing the frequency of flashbacks. But trigger warnings promote avoidance – directly undermining this therapeutic principle. & # 39; Avoidance intensifies the problem for people affected by traumatic events & # 39 ;, Gray says. "The more you deliberately push penetrating thoughts or memories out of your thoughts, the more they pop up."
Experts even expose trauma victims to harrowing experiences through film or photos. The American Psychological Association's encyclopedia of psychiatric disorders mentions "electronic media, television, movies, or photos as potentially therapeutic.
And psychologists in Quebec and California use virtual reality headsets that can create frightening experiences to help rape victims and war veterans.
A 2015 analysis of 16 film-focused exposure therapy studies concluded that the technique successfully lowers & # 39; the emotional response to traumatic images & # 39 ;. According to Gray, however, there are a number of specific situations where trigger warnings are essential.
& # 39; We know that for people who feel suicidal, content about means and method of suicide can generate ideas & # 39 ;, says Gray. "So we have to follow the strict media guidelines for reporting suicide, including possibly a trigger warning."
Regarding other potentially activating topic, Gray says, "Warnings are almost useless."
. [TagsToTranslate] Dailymail