If the George Floyd video has taught us anything, (besides that racism and police brutality exist, though I hope you already knew this because of the many that came before him) it’s that witnessing violence and pain can spark a desire to help and create change. Whether that desire has lasted (I hope it has) comes down to the level of privilege you enjoy, but that’s a conversation for another day. For now, let’s agree that viewing explicit pain and violence has immense power. But here, I ask why.
Why is simply hearing about stories of injustices no longer enough for us? Was it ever enough for us? Why must we devour increasingly upsetting and violent videos and images to believe what we are being told is true? Why is there this requirement placed on the sufferer to be vocal and convincing for others to open their eyes and show compassion? We should not have to see explicit suffering or sadness in order to act. This obsession with proof and performance is excessive and damaging as this demand is too painful and difficult to fulfil for many.
For example, this year the Mental Health Awareness Week’s theme was kindness; a stark reminder that we’ve all become less kind. It’s absurd that a week had to be dedicated to something we should all be doing all the time anyway. It appears we need to re-learn how to be kind and to be reminded of its importance when kindness should be the default in human behaviour. Is it not kindness that is the absolute bare minimum that’s expected from us? Reminding people to be kind is as absurd as reminding people that racism is bad. Imagine having to still do that in 2020…
Why do we wait until people feel forced to explicitly tell us that they’re not okay before we acknowledge it or try and help? It appears we’re not great at noticing signs anymore (were we ever?) or simply turn a blind eye to them because we don’t want to have uncomfortable/sad conversations or, quite frankly, we feel we don’t have the time to deal with other peoples’ problems when we’ve got our own to worry about.
As we grow older, somewhere along the way and without even realising we become more sceptical, impatient and judgemental, and ultimately less kind, understanding and compassionate. I bet you want proof for these statements. So let’s start with the recent unrest caused by minorities suggesting they were being treated unfairly. Why was the response from some to demand proof (even if the intention was to educate themselves) or divert attention to other matters? And next, why is wearing a mask during a pandemic a debate? Even if they turn out to be useless, is it not better to wear them just in case they help others? Some people don’t think so. This is the sad reality in a world where 25% of us will deal with some mental health illness. This statistic is surprising to me, not because it seems high but because out of all my close friends and family I can honestly count on 1 hand, the number of people who fall in the other 75%. So, I either have some secret power that attracts only a select few to me or that first statistic should be a lot higher to reflect the reality I see. There are a lot of people who are fighting their demons quietly and don’t yet feel comfortable speaking to a doctor or even their friends about any of it. And there are many who are either in denial or just haven’t yet recognised that they are actually suffering and that those panic attacks aren’t a ‘normal’ thing that happen to everyone. This is why kindness is important.
I should say that I am not an expert on being nice or mental health or on how to help someone with their own struggles, but here are some things I feel are very important and we should all remember:
- Be patient with yourself and others. This is important. Try and understand rather than argue or criticise.
- We need to show more empathy, compassion and respect. Pointlessly criticising, dismissing others’ sadness as comparatively less than yours, gossiping and meanness disguised as ‘banter’ needs to be unlearnt.
- Just listen. Don’t try to compare with your own experiences or try to relate by bringing in your own stories as this can shift the focus away from what’s important and who’s important. Just listen.
- A person’s silence speaks volumes. Stop worrying about coming across as annoying or nosey and send that message of ‘how are you doing’ or ‘been missing you, how about we call tomorrow’
- You probably won’t get an honest response straight away from someone who is not doing great, so use your judgement. Not everyone will feel like sharing but let them know you genuinely care. Don’t force someone to talk, but are they just staying quiet because they don’t want to inconvenience you?
- Of course, we all have our own lives and are busy with our own stuff, but if someone’s absence and their silence has been noticeable or out of character or there’s been signs in the past that maybe their mental health isn’t the best – it’s time to drop them a message.
I’m not saying I’m perfect at recognising when someone needs me. In fact, I’m impatient, moody and short-tempered. I myself have a long way to go, so this article reminds me to be better and holds me accountable just as much as it does others. We all need to be better. We all need to be kinder and more understanding. Don’t worry, we are all in the ‘be better’ boat together.
Some useful links and resources:
If anyone’s struggling, contact Samaritans on 116 123 or email email@example.com. You can also contact the mental health charity Mind by calling 0300 123 3393 or visiting mind.org.uk
A great book which discusses mental health very openly is ‘Jog On’ by Bella Mackie so give that a read and definitely follow her on Instagram!
‘The depression project’ is a great account on Instagram that explains anxiety and depression and everything mental health related
By Joy Nath
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