Trigger warnings are used to safeguard individuals – who may have experienced a traumatic event – from exposure to potentially triggering material in the workplace.
Triggering content might include graphic references, for example, to topics such as self-harm, sexual abuse, suicide and violence.
It’s good practice to issue trigger warnings trigger warnings – statements alerting people to content (such as video, imagery or text) containing material that may be upsetting or potentially cause significant distress. Close to the crew and cast before working with potentially disturbing themes.
Equipping people with trigger warnings before working with potentially traumatising material allows them to prepare emotionally, or to opt out of interacting with the content.
The goal is to prevent exposing individuals who have experienced past trauma to further distress.
When to use a trigger warning
When discussing a job
If the subject matter contains sensitive, potentially triggering themes, share this information early and make it clear at job interviews, so candidates can make an informed choice about their involvement.
For example, ‘This production contains material of a highly sensitive nature including “x, y, z” that may be triggering for some individuals’.
Candidates may feel uncomfortable discussing concerns for fear of losing a job opportunity, so it’s helpful to highlight any sensitive content again at induction to give new starters another chance to raise issues.
In production and post-production meetings
Explain that elements of the content include subject matter that some individuals may find upsetting and/or traumatising.
Encourage crew to look out for each other and foster an atmosphere of sensitivity and mutual respect.
Often, the post-production team are overlooked when considering the impact of sensitive content, but they can be exposed to viewing distressing material multiple times in an edit, so it’s vital that they’re properly briefed.
Ensure everyone knows what psychological support is available.
Examples of trigger warnings
Trigger warnings are provided as a written or verbal list of contents that may have a negative impact on an individual.
Here are several, but this list isn’t exhaustive
- Sexual assault
- Child abuse, paedophilia and incest
- Animal cruelty and animal death
- Eating disorders, body hatred and fat phobia
- Pornographic content
- Kidnapping and abduction
- Death and dying
- Pregnancy and childbirth
- Mental illness
- Racism and racial slurs
- Sexism and misogyny
- Islamophobia and anti-Semitism
- Hateful language directed at religious groups
- Transphobia and transmisogyny
- Homophobia and heterosexism
Why warnings are important
While some warnings appear obvious as to how they can trigger negative memories, others may seem obscure.
We can never make assumptions about what people have experienced in their lives and should appreciate that what might trigger one individual may not impact another.
The aim is to notify people of sensitive content and enable them to make an informed choice about whether to view the material.
Taking a few minutes to insert a trigger warning demonstrates there’s an active commitment to supporting mental health and wellbeing on the production.
How to use trigger warnings
Ways to implement trigger warnings can include:
- If most of the material is potentially triggering, include a blanket warning that is sent to the crew and perhaps added to their contract, onboarding email or when creating a wellbeing pack.
- For example, ‘The content of this production may be emotionally challenging. The production will aim to let you know in advance when potentially triggering material will be being filmed or discussed’.
- If you are about to discuss something sensitive and potentially traumatic, offer a trigger warning in advance.
- Be clear what you wish to discuss and check that the person you are speaking with is ok to continue the conversation.
- You should indicate if there’s potentially triggering content in an email or attachment, such as script extracts.
- Place the trigger warning in the subject line so that the recipient knows what to expect.
- Note before the content: ‘Trigger warning: this page contains references to themes of x, y, z… which some individuals may find distressing’.
On call sheets
- Insert a trigger warning next to the scene number to forewarn the crew when a scene with potentially distressing content will be filmed.
- Try to give your crew as much advance notice as possible.
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