The Case for Content Warnings

TAwhile back, my younger brother was required to watch some educational videos on issues of sexual violence, because his university required it of all incoming first-year students. As supportive as I am of my younger brother and his educational pursuits, I had a problem while I overheard these videos—I’ve heard enough stories of sexual violence, especially from people I care deeply about, that I just couldn’t stand to hear the video my brother was listening to in the background.

My brother felt guilty about playing this video when I was in the room, and he repeatedly apologized. Not only did I accept the apology, but I also respected and admired the fact that he was understanding of my emotions.

Regardless of what happened, this situation provided a teachable moment for my brother and me, and hopefully a teachable moment for all of us. The thing I want to teach all of us is that content warnings are extremely important and are essential to our well-being and that of our friends.

A content warning is a statement cautioning that content may be disturbing, upsetting, or otherwise hurtful. By giving such a statement, you are giving the warning that it might not be in the best interests of a person’s mental health to see the content. Such a warning is often given on the news when it is going to show badly injured, dying, or dead bodies. Some outlets also give content warnings when there’s content which may revive horrid memories of the past, such as stories about sexual violence or other forms of abuse.

These content warnings can and sometimes do save people from disturbing images that would be detrimental to a person’s mental health. They save people from getting upset about dead bodies or having flashbacks to violence they experienced in their lives, for example. Additionally, even in cases where we can’t avoid the content, at least we’re warned that what we’re about to see may be difficult to take.

Without a content warning, you end up like me that one time—deeply disturbed and feeling the need to go to a room where I couldn’t hear the video my brother was required to play. Or worse. And I’m sure other readers can speak to situations when they didn’t receive content warnings, and then walked into situations where they were triggered and therefore deeply hurt.

And yet, in spite of the negative experiences so many of us have when we don’t get content warnings, it is still a debate whether there should be content warnings. The University of Chicago, for example, refuses to allow them.[1] It has even lamentably become a political debate, where the “liberal” side advocates for content warnings while some on the “conservative” side call advocates of content warnings “liberal snowflakes.”[2]

I call the politicizing of content warnings lamentable because content warnings should not be a liberal issue or a conservative issue. It is an issue of mental health. It is such a big issue of mental health that I resent the fact that I feel like I have to make a “case” for content warnings to convince people that they are important. If we care about the mental well-being of people, we should look past the politics and give others content warnings when there is a statement, article, or news story which may be disturbing or upsetting for large groups of people.  

Note: Since it is just to give content warnings, this is a “Blindly Just” post.


[1] The University of Chicago said that they do not support trigger warnings, which is the same thing as a content warning. Here’s the story on the University’s rejection of trigger warnings: https://www.npr.org/2016/08/26/491531869/university-of-chicago-tells-freshmen-it-does-not-support-trigger-warnings

[2] People viewed as “fragile” enough to need these warnings are indeed often viewed as “snowflakes.” I know this is an opinion piece, but this opinion piece does add insight to how people who need these warnings are often viewed: https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2018/10/18/way-handle-trigger-warnings-develop-one-time-only-one-opinion

Addressing the Notion of “Praying Away” Mental Health Conditions

In many Christian circles, regardless of theology, there is the belief that you can often pray your troubles away. There is a belief that you can pray away financial troubles, family issues, physical illness, and yes, mental health issues as well.

While I am very supportive of praying for people who go through these different types of issues,[1] I think that it is extraordinarily important for me to use my past experiences with mental health issues to address the notion that it’s not always as simple as praying your mental health issues away, or that you are subject to condemnation if prayer doesn’t take away your mental health issues.[2]

You see, I was once one of those people who believed that if I prayed long enough and hard enough, any stress or anxiety I felt about my life would just go away. And honestly, in many of those cases, that was the case.

However, around the time of my grandpa’s death last fall, I discovered that suddenly, it wasn’t quite that easy. Far from it. To the contrary, no matter how much I prayed, I felt like I was sinking more deeply into an abyss of mental health issues. In response, I prayed all the harder, and yet I continued to struggle with unwelcome, unpleasant, and upsetting thoughts and ideas, best known as intrusive thoughts.

For a time, I suffered in silence—without a doubt the absolute worst thing I could’ve done at the time. I was worried about condemnation from others if I told anyone—condemnation for being a freak, for being weird, for the fact that I didn’t pray hard enough for all of this to go away, for the fact that I somehow didn’t rely on God enough. The last two of these fears, of course, relate to this notion that you can just “pray it away” and that there’s something wrong with you if you are not able to do that.

Thankfully, I was lucky to have a circle of loving family members and friends (most of whom are Christians, by the way; these people probably know who they are and these people mean the world to me) who didn’t condemn, who didn’t subscribe to the aforementioned beliefs about mental health and prayer. As a result, while my mental health is not always perfect (intrusive thoughts do make a comeback from time to time, seemingly around times of great change in my life), it has never reached quite the lows that it did around the time of my grandpa’s death.

If I want people to learn anything from my story, it would be that, regardless of whether you believe in the power of prayer (I certainly do!), sometimes mental health is more complicated than praying the sickness away, and we are being unjust to ourselves and others if we think it is always as simple as praying something away. Sometimes, it’s significantly more complicated than praying and requires support from family and friends, counseling, and/or therapy. And you know what? That’s okay.

So for anyone out there who is trying to pray the mental health condition away but you feel like you’re failing at it, as I was, just know that you’re not a freak, you’re not condemned, you’re not having issues with “failing to pray hard enough,” and you’re not alone.


[1] I’m a believer in Christ and proud of it. So yes, I am supportive of praying for people who are going through different varieties of struggles, because I pray for people going through different struggles all the time!

[2] If anyone is wondering what the “blind injustice” is, it’s that there’s a widespread belief that there is somehow something wrong with you if prayer does not cure you of your mental health issues.

Mental Health and Listening to News

I used to be gung-ho about listening to the news and making sure that others listened to the news as well. That deep desire to listen to the news drove me toward a highly successful speech and debate career in high school,[1]  among other things.

However, in light of recent events in my life, I’ve needed to reevaluate my attitude towards listening to the news. You see, I’ve gone through some difficult things lately, and during these difficult times the last thing I wanted to hear was more bad news for half an hour every night.

So what is it? Should I (and we) avoid the news like I have sometimes done recently, or should I (and we) closely follow the news, no matter what?

I do think that it is still important to listen to the news; however, I do not think that news should be listened to at the expense of one’s own mental health.

It is important to listen to the news because we should know what is going on with our cities, states, countries, and the entire world. By listening to what is going on around us, we can (hopefully) make informed decisions in our own lives and in cases where the lives of others could be affected.[2]  It can give us wise information on how we vote, on which parts of our cities and states are particularly rough, and on what the appropriate clothing is considering the weather outside. Clearly, we gain a great deal of value by listening to the news.

However, speaking from personal experience, that value of listening to the news is lost when we are mentally exhausted. Indeed, in my personal life in recent months, I’ve dealt with both of my dad’s parents being sick (one of them passed away); on a number of occasions during this time (especially when I spent a full day trying to help my grandparents), I would just tune out of the news on the television and not really absorb the information being given to me. And if I, a news nut, tune out when trying to listen to the news when I’m mentally exhausted, that’s a sign that we should all not invest much time in the news when we are mentally exhausted.

Furthermore, speaking from what I’ve seen friends and family experience, the value of listening to the news is also lost if a news story triggers emotions related to a past traumatic event in their lives.[3]  When the emotions triggered by an event are so big that you struggle to listen to the news, then maybe that’s a sign to change the channel for the time being.

Yes, the news is valuable. But the news is not so valuable that we should ignore our own mental health. Especially considering the fact that you can read news stories two or three days after they appear on television, it’s more than okay to wait those few days and then read the news at that time.

Note: I will not be publishing for the next two Tuesdays because of the holidays. I will share some old content and make some other posts on my Facebook and Twitter pages, though. I hope everyone has a good holiday season!


[1] I qualified for a statewide speech and debate championship all four years of high school, and a nationwide speech and debate championship for three years of high school.
[2] I am talking about actual news journalism reporting, not the editorializing that we sometimes get on some of the cable news networks in the United States.
[3] This has especially been the case recently with various stories that have come out about sexual misconduct.

Self-Care is Not Selfish

If you told me at this time last year that I would have the above statement anywhere in my writing, let alone as the title of a blog post, I might call you crazy.

Needless to say, life circumstances can change your outlook.

The past year has been an absolute whirlwind for me. From changes and promotions professionally, to the loss of two relatives (including my grandpa, who was the sort of person I aspire to be), to having yet another relative experience worsening Alzheimer’s, I have experienced many changes in my life. Those changes, both good and bad, were so great and happened so quickly that they ended up taking a major toll on my own mental health.

But, even as my mental health was on the decline in early autumn, I had this attitude that “I should take care of others and not really worry about myself.” I was worried about others instead of myself.

And then, a good friend of mine gave me a nice little reality check through what she said: “I know you want to worry about everyone else and make sure they’re taken care of, but you need to take care of yourself too Brendan. You need to take some time for yourself.”

Thankfully, that reality check came at the right time (a time when my mental health was quite poor) and with someone who really was looking out for my best interests. She knew that I was really worried about others and not caring enough for myself. And, of course, she knew that I was wrong to think that way.

I was wrong to think that way for so many reasons, but I will touch on a couple of major reasons that might resonate with people who, like me, always look to help others no matter how they are doing themselves. For one thing, it is hard to take care of others when you are not doing well, physically or mentally. For another thing, if you personally are not doing well physically or mentally, then the biggest help you can often be to friends is to take care of yourself.[1]  Ultimately, even if you’re someone like me (someone who wants to help others all the time), the biggest help you can be to those you want to help is to take care of yourself.

As such, I therefore hope that what I’m about to say is also coming at the right time for someone out there: “Whether you are struggling or not, you need to take care of yourself physically and mentally. You need to exercise self-care, and self-care is not selfish.”

Note: As taking care of oneself is something I consider “blindly just,” this is a “blindly just” post.

[1] Believe me…after the occasions I kept roommates awake at night because of my coughing when I was sick, I truly believe that sometimes, the biggest help you can be to friends is to take care of yourself.

On So-Called Slacktivism

Many of my readers have probably heard the term “slacktivism” by now—a term used to characterize “the practice of supporting a political or social cause by means such as social media or online petitions, characterized as involving very little effort or commitment.”[1] We will probably hear that term even more leading up to elections in November as some of us shame others of us for being “slacktivists.”

That being said, I am going to do something here that may ignite some controversy. I am coming to the defense of so-called slacktivists—some of them.

But why?

The short answer is that there are many people who don’t have the time or ability to do anything more than sign an online petition or do other online activism, and that should be respected instead of degraded.

A longer answer must explore life circumstances that result in someone not being able to do more than what many activists call slacktivism:

  1. Professional responsibilities. I have heard about my fair share of midday rallies and protests (and have even been at a few of them). The only problem is that such rallies can’t be attended even by someone who works a normal 9-5 job, unless that person lives in the area of the rally and is able to take a lunch break during the rally. Evenings and weekends give better access to rallies for regular 9-5 workers, but there are still many people who work weekends and/or evenings instead of, or in addition to, 9-5 work. For people who are at work while rallies and protests happen, the most they can do is what’s labeled as slacktivism, and that should be respected.
  2. Family responsibilities. Parents have to take care of their children and other family. Grownups have to make sure that all the utility bills are paid for their houses, or that rent is paid for their apartments. These responsibilities exist in addition to, not instead of, professional responsibilities. Some rallies have tried to take away the burden of parents taking care of children by including childcare at rallies (though I’m sure some parents would feel uneasy about the thought of leaving their child or children in the hands of complete strangers, and I might feel the same way when/if I become a parent). Once one combines professional responsibilities with family responsibilities, then there may be little time to do more than so-called slacktivism, and that fact shouldn’t be demonized.
  3. Physical limitations. Some people are flat-out physically unable to get to, or participate in, a rally or protest. Back when I had my bad ankle earlier this year, I was one of those people. I know many others who, like me during my bad ankle, would’ve been completely unable to participate in rallies and protests even if we wanted to. Sometimes, slacktivism is the most that some of our bodies can handle.
  4. Emotional limitations. There are some rallies that may be emotionally just too much for people. For example, a rally protesting gun violence may be too much for some family or friends of people who’ve been victimized by gun violence. The emotional limitations that bring people towards slacktivism, and away from what many activists view as activism, should be respected.

I acknowledge that there are, no doubt, many people who are capable of more than the signing of online petitions and involvement of online movements that is often associated with slacktivism. Such people who are capable of higher levels of involvement should be more involved. However, I hope that my list brings to mind the fact that there are probably millions of people in the United States who are unable to do anything more than what is labeled as slacktivism. Those people should not be demonized for what they’re unable to do, but thanked for what they are able to do.


[1] https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/slacktivism