CW: Suicide, miscarriage, bullying.
***As ever, I want to state that everything I write on this blog is from my own experience of mental health issues and treatment, it’s all from my perspective and I would never presume to speak for anyone else, no matter how similar their experience may be to mine.***
I wanted to write down some thoughts about two events from the past week or so, and why they’ve been playing on my mind so much.
It was recently the anniversary of Caroline Flack’s death by suicide and social media was flooded with tributes to her. Her death was unspeakably sad, and the backdrop to it had been months of her being hounded by the press and bullied on social media for an upcoming court case about an incident between her and her boyfriend. There was a massive outcry after her death and the phrase ‘be kind’ has become synonymous with expressing grief for her.
Just before this anniversary, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle a pregnancy, following a miscarriage last summer. This news was met with various newspapers and a LOT of people on social media criticising her (and it is mostly her, not him) for choosing to make a public announcement when they have famously said they want their privacy since stepping back from royal duties. I say criticising, but let’s call it what it is – bullying.
These two events may not seem linked, but I have spent an inordinate amount of time over the past week wondering how many people were posting tributes to Caroline, urging their followers, friends and family to ‘be kind’ whilst also slagging off Meghan on the same platforms for choosing to live life her own way. Social media, unfortunately, means being able to express sympathy with one tap of a thumb, whilst spitting hate with the next. No matter what your thoughts on a ‘celebrity’, does it ever need to be summed up in a vitriolic tweet or post? The answer is no, if you didn’t realise.
I always say that kindness is one of the traits I prize above all others; in fact it’s one of the things that first drew me to my husband, after a string of boys who were keen to be seen as ‘good guys’ without actually realising what that looked like in action.
Kindness (to me) means:
- Standing up for what you believe in, and calling out unkindness when you see it. If you see someone exhibiting bullying behaviour, call them out on it, even – ESPECIALLY – if that person is yourself. Hold yourself and those close to you accountable for things said, done and posted online. Just because you don’t like someone, does that mean it needs to be posted in a public forum? Or could you just go about your day? You don’t have to engage in a pointless online argument either (as most people who are vile online are not open to their minds being changed), you can block and report people really easily. I do this A LOT.
- Listening to marginalised groups, and I mean REALLY listening. Black people, LGBTQI+ people, people with disabilities, everyone needs to have their voice heard and respected, no matter how different their experience may be from our own. Changes need to be made in order to make things more equitable across the board, and especially in the mental health forum. Kindness is no good if it’s only applied to people who look and think like you.
- Looking for active ways you can support the mental health of others. A lot of people at the start of this lockdown posted statistics about how suicide figures have gone up during the pandemic. But how many of us would know what to do if someone close to us needed help and support with their mental health? We can’t all train as counsellors, but there are really good, free online courses available which explain the basics of the best ways to support someone struggling. The Zero Suicide Alliance, for example, offers free Suicide Awareness Training and anyone can sign up for it. Suicide is not always preventable, but if we are encouraging kindness in order to help combat it, any advice on how to achieve this should be welcomed.
- Voting for political parties who are working to support the NHS and its mental health services. Funding for these services is being cut, waiting lists are months long, and NHS treatment options are limited. So yeah, looking at political parties’ manifestos to see how they plan to move forward regarding mental health support is crucial. Be kind by using your vote for what you think is important.
- Being kind to YOURSELF. We are often so hard on ourselves, much harder than we would be on others. We hold ourselves to such high standards, even when going through a global pandemic. We feel we should be living up to what we see others managing online, whether that’s baking banana bread, decorating your home, sewing clothes for your seven children from old curtains, or teaching them to sing, win a contest and then escape Nazi Austria with the help of some nuns. (The Sound of Music has been on my mind a lot lately, okay? RIP Christopher Plummer.) We are living through a really crappy time, no matter what our individual circumstances, and if that’s not a reason to give ourselves a metaphorical hug and pat on the back, I don’t know what is.
Sorry this ended up being a much longer post than I intended, but as you can probably tell it’s something I feel incredibly passionate about. It’s easy to post about things online, but we all need to do better at practising what we preach. Kindness is incredibly important, but words without action are empty.