They aren’t aware they’re triggering trauma: it’s bad

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Imagine reliving a greatly painful moment of your life in front of 30 other students. Unable to catch your breath. Feeling disoriented. Needing to be taken out of class. Would you not feel embarrassed about breaking down in front of your classmates and your teacher? Would you want to come back to class after that? Should you have to worry about facing your trauma, a private subject, in an environment of which you are meant to learn? I say no. Teachers and students nonchalantly vocalizing about triggering topics is so harmful to trauma victims, it’s causing students with PTSD to avoid attending class and it’s only worsening traumatized students’ mental health.
I’m sure it comes as no shock that it’s mentally harmful to trigger one’s trauma or PTSD. However, just to know how severe triggered PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) can often be, we can cite from “betterhelp” as it states, “…flashbacks can come suddenly and take people by surprise. In severe situations, people can have PTSD hallucinations and become completely unaware of their surroundings, experience time-distortions, and react to things as if they were truly happening presently.” In the same article, it also states that PTSD attacks can cause physical effects, such as increased blood pressure, rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, and other panic attack-related symptoms. It’s self-explanatory as to why this is harmful. I’ve seen first hand, teachers speaking about self-harm; one of the teacher’s had a daughter who had stretch marks that the teacher remarked, look like self harm scars. Saying she asked her daughter if she had been hiding a “razor blade”. It made me, and the other students who heard, extremely uncomfortable and anxious. This conversation was held in an 8th grade hallway, where young children were going to homeroom class. That is not an appropriate topic to be discussing in front of 13-14 year olds. Along with this, I held an interview with Logoi Jackson, someone who suffers from PTSD and is a trauma survivor themself, and asked him if he had any encounters with teachers mentioning anxiety triggering topics in classes. They replied with, “Yep. The mentions of forceful sexual acts. Said without warning and out of context.” These heavily triggering topics were discussed in front of young children, it’s so ill-suited. And students should not have to fear experiencing episodes within the classroom due to indifferent teachers. Not only does triggering trauma victims negatively impact their mental health directly, it can also lead to a lot of issues later on in their school years.
This could easily cause the student to be victimised in a school setting by other students, and even teachers. According to “Psychology Today” individuals are more likely to become targets of bullying if they are “different”, mentioning diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, along with autism and disabilities as probable differences. Also raising the topic that children that are not deemed “leaders” are more likely to fall prey to bullying. And according to “The National Child Traumatic Stress Network” traumatized children, “…often fly beneath the radar”. Along with this, PTSD is also heavily associated with social anxiety disorder, (also called social phobia or SAD), an anxiety disorder that causes anxiety in regards to being the center of attention, being judged, or of speaking in general. All this to say that traumatized students are at a higher risk of outside shame than their other non-traumatized peers, due to others seeing their experience as different, and due to the fact that traumatized students tend to be more reserved than their classmates. Bullying due to trauma may even cause more anxiety to be triggered, making students severely anxious in schools is so distasteful. I struggle with anxiety and trauma myself, and I don’t know how I would handle coming to school to have to deal with all that stress. All that anxiety and worthlessness. I would be absolutely miserable.
Traumatized students also have a higher likelihood of suffering from depression, according to, verywellmind it’s said that, “A diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression commonly co-occur.” Depression is a mood disorder, commonly associated with feelings of guilt, shame and worthlessness. Triggering topics being discussed in academy, causing students to break down could be worsening their depression. 9th grade students Katherine Roberts, Alana Taylor, and again Logoi Jackson were interviewed, asking how they would feel if they had a breakdown in front of their classmates. They all had similar answers, Roberts notes that, “[If I broke down] It would make me feel worse and lesser of a person” and that, “I would feel very embarrassed and like everyone is judging me for something I can’t control.” Again, this relates back to depression and social anxiety, feeling great self-indignity, and a fear of others’ judgement. Taylor then states, quite unambiguously, “It’s embarrassing.” Jackson’s response was, “[I would feel] disgusted. Mental breakdowns are extremely vulnerable circumstances and having an entire class watch that would be mortifying.” I feel Jackson’s response particularly is quite telling, as an individual having a mental breakdown is someone being extremely vulnerable, causing immense pain, especially in a public setting. Crying. Feeling your world shatter. Unable to function. There’s no good that could possibly come from this. Unless you have some sadistic tendency, no one should think this is ok.

Many don’t think this is ok, and “trigger warnings” have become a quite popular way to warn traumatized individuals away from possibly triggering content. While many believe that this is a greatly helpful solution, they can actually do more harm than good. According to “Sage Journals” and their article on the effects of trigger warnings, a study, “…found no evidence that trigger warnings were helpful for trauma survivors, for participants who self-reported a posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis…” Not only are trigger warnings not really helping according to the statistics, but the same article gives a conclusion that is more harmful to trauma victims. Stating, “We found substantial evidence that trigger warnings countertherapeutically reinforce survivors’ view of their trauma as central to their identity.” While trigger warnings aren’t helpful according to statistics, especially with the concept of self-triggering, anecdotal evidence often suggests otherwise. Interviewee Jackson remarks that, “Some [trigger warnings] are helpful! Some are not! Trigger warnings on… s/a, for example. Very good, especially the amount of people who have gone through it…” Based on the fact Jackson and the statistics are contradictory, it seems it may be helpful for some, and not for others, so is there a way to not trigger traumatized students while also not using trigger warnings? Yes. And it’s quite simple.

Don’t discuss triggering topics in schools, this message doesn’t just go to teachers either. I asked my interviewee Taylor if she had heard anything triggering spoken about by students or staff in schools. Her response was, “…[Two students] in my class last year told each other to kill themselves…It made me so mad because I have dealt with suicidal people before.” Imagine if this conversation was had with someone who had been suicidal in the past nearby? What if you were that person? I hope this angers all of you as much as it does Taylor and I, because this is not ok. Triggering topics being indifferently discussed in schools is only harmful, not helpful.

Teachers and or students nonchalantly vocalizing about these triggering topics is hugely harmful; it can cause trauma or PTSD to be triggered, shame directed at the triggered victim, or fear and avoidance concerning attending class, and not to mention many other awful consequences. School is a learning institution, designed to educate students. While whether or not this education is helpful is controversial, it should be agreed upon that Academy is not the proper setting for students to be wary of reliving traumatic events. Students with diagnosed PTSD, or students who have survived trauma should not have to fret over teachers’ or their classmates’ indifference causing them to be enveloped in their trauma during class. This is for both the teachers and the students, because trauma is oftentimes a private matter that only the victim has full knowledge of, others should be sensitive to discussing traumatic topics in the environment of education. If you are a professor or student reading who has come this far, take this as a mnemonic, a reminder and sign that it is imperative to reflect, before announcing something that produces baleful damage. As they say, “Think before you speak.”

betterhelp, What Are PTSD Flashbacks & What Triggers Them?

Psychology Today, Are You an Easy Target For Bullies?

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Child Trauma Toolkit

verywellmind, The Relationship Between PTSD and Depression

Sage Journals, Helping or Harming? The Effect of Trigger Warnings on Individuals with Trauma Histories