Friday, November 17, 2023

Trigger Warnings and Suicidality

Want to add, for consideration and added perspective, a note about consent, support, and safety of all regarding triggering content. There are two separate and equally important harms to consider. Both matter in my view.

1) The harm of exposure to the topic.

2) The harm of the topic being ignored and turned away from. Or pushed to a claimed and supposed "resource" that itself is actually ineffective or directly harmful. 

I don't have an answer here and I believe it's an incredibly challenging situation to address. I don't think there's a magic binary answer. All situations are not created equal. It is to say though - not being allowed talk about the realities of suicide can, at worst and when handled poorly, become a deep-seated form of prejudice against the emotionally distressed. This is perhaps a false equivalency, but I think about how often non-white populations are told it's "not the appropriate time or place to talk about racism" or how disabled people are so often asked to remove themselves because simply being within eyesight is "making others uncomfortable".

Part of the difference here includes the emotionally distressed putting other emotionally distressed people at risk. There's a hell of a lot of nuance to unpack with that. When people discuss their reaction to discussion or threats of suicide, it can include mild or severe distress inducing, trauma re-triggering, and even life-threatening distress crises. Those reactions are very real and worthy of concern. I'm not denying that and it'd be wrong to attack or question that distress of others. What I am saying is there's another party also involved. the sender of the message. That side's safety needs also matter. And I'm worried that many conversation, at worst, starts to solely and only center the needs of those harmed by the messages. In doing they so minimize, ignore, or shame and attack the needs of the person doing the messaging. And to not address the harm that can cause. The harm on both sides ought to matter, right? Time and again, from my anecdotal experience in dozens of peer communities I've worked in or been a member of, it's been shown that the needs of message readers are favored above and over the distressed individual. While the distressed individual is often abandoned or pushed to a resource that isn't actually a resource. 

We also see so much prejudice and sanism involved. Suicide discussion is called "manipulative", "unfair", "inappropriate", "poor moral character", "cowardice", and dozens of other misconceptions and harmful attacks. There are occassional times where this can be true, but also understand there are all sorts of problematic stereotypes about suicidial people. Even and especially from mental health professionals. That's a whole article unto itself but worth at least touching on. 

What we have then is a situation of harm encountering harm, and I don't yet know what the middle ground answer is. It's harm if certain discussion forms are allowed. It's harm if those certain discussion forms aren't allowed. This might include separate spaces, trigger warning tags, spoiler text, or other form of conversation control. It's a tricky situation to work though, with nuance including items like "is it a current distress situation or a more regulated person talking about past distress?" and other such contextual questions (and even context from situation to situation within any given category). 

This article is, in part, and ask for community spaces to take on this tricky question. To do so with non-prejudicial care and compassion framework seeking equity for all sides involved. Including a lens of truly understanding sanism (prejudice against the emotionally distressed) as a concept, which so few spaces do.

As one additional contextual note, speaking for myself and dozens of others I know, it's been deeply untrue that reaching out and asking politely results in in help that's helpful to our situation. That help sometimes does not exist no matter how we show up. Understand that if you have real social or economic support, that's a privilege. One that not everyone has. Can read more about help gaps here: The Hard Truth Of When, Sometimes, Help Does Not Exist (Even Though It Could).

Will end by saying, I believe that equity for both sides is deeply necessary. Both sides does mean both. In writing this note, I don't want the needs of triggered message readers, especially those marginalized themselves, pushed aside or not be considered at all. Their needs matter. I want equity for both sides of the issue. This is not a call to have the needs of message senders centered now instead, though it is often taken that way when I ask what I ask. That is a strawman assumption and not my goal. I am simply asking to not have the needs of the message readers who are triggered centered. I've seen message readers centered in the past in other peer groups when this topic comes up. I'm seen all manner of sanism employed against message senders. Both sides matter is the goal, with both sides getting a say is what "we matter" actually could or should mean. 

My hope includes that this article can lead to more productive and equitable discussion with a goal of reducing harm for all.

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