How Trigger Warnings Could Worsen Anxiety Among Students

Trigger warnings may actually be the cause of additional anxiety by students who are sensitive to certain topics.

By now you’ve likely heard the term “trigger warning.” 

It’s become an increasingly common disclaimer at the start of any contentious or potentially sensitive conversation. But how is this additional layer of emotional consideration impacting young people in academic settings and in their everyday lives?

“I like the title ‘Disempowered.’ Because I think that’s what we’re doing to an entire generation.” – Greg Lukianoff, author

This topic is explored in the book “The Coddling of the American Mind,” and Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson speaks with one of the book’s co-authors.

Click on the audio player to hear the full conversation

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education


Greg Lukianoff is the co-author of “The Coddling of the American Mind,” and also a First Amendment expert and president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Lukianoff and Henderson begin the discussion by talking about the title of the book. 

“I’ve never liked the title of the book. I like the title ‘Disempowered.’ Because I think that’s what we’re doing to an entire generation,” says Lukianoff.

Lukianoff says he started noticing a shift in campus culture around 2013 or 2014, “it was really obvious, students started having a lot more movement about speakers, microaggression policies, trigger warnings,” and the notable part, he explains, was that “a lot of it was justified with medical rationale.” 

“The fear is that we’re helping to create a self-fulfilling prophecy of anxiety, depression,” and other bad mental health outcomes by avoiding discussing topics on college campuses, Lukianoff says.

He notes that due to social media and other factors students were entering into the college environment with higher rates of anxiety and depression than had previously been reported. By turning an “aversion into a phobia” we are actually making the problem worse and creating “psychologically harmful” conditions, says Lukianoff.

He notes that “universities have very special roles, it’s not an easy role, but we rely on them to have difficult discussions.”

Support the news you love.

Here at WDET, we strive to make our journalism accessible to everyone. As a non-profit public media institution, we maintain our journalistic integrity through independent support from readers like you. Because you value WDET as your source of news, music, and conversation, please make a gift of support today. Even $5 helps! Donate today »


  • Detroit Today

    Dynamic and diverse voices. News, politics, community and the issues that define our region. Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Henderson, Detroit Today brings you fresh and perceptive views weekdays at 9 am and 7 pm.