The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week this year, in 2020, was kindness.
Kindness. To others – and to ourselves – is so important for wellbeing. Kindness can be taken in a variety of ways. Kindness to ourselves, to our friends and family and to people we don’t know.
Let’s talk about kindness to ourselves first.
It’s often said that we are our own worst critics.. which, let’s face it, is true. We can be so quick to put ourselves down or turn away any compliments. When I was a teenager, I used some really horrible words to describe myself. I thought every worst possible thing imaginable about myself. I couldn’t stand who I was or what I looked like. I wanted to be like all the other girls at my school. But I wasn’t, and I thought that was my fault. I blamed myself for who I was. I thought I was the one to blame about having a chronic illness. I became closed off and withdrawn. But I’ve should have been describing myself in a positive light. So instead of useless, stupid, ugly and weird, I should have been describing myself as unique, brave, beautiful and worthy. We aren’t supposed to be like everyone else! We’re all supposed to be like ourselves; individuality is amazing.
You don’t need to change yourself. You don’ need to conform to society’s ideals. You don’t need to push away any compliments that come your way. You deserve those compliments! You don’t need to punish yourself for any reason as you’re perfect just the way you are. Life’s too short to be mean to yourself. It will be okay. You will be okay.
Now let’s talk about kindness to others, whether their friends and family or complete strangers.
Whether it’s in person or online, kindness ALWAYS matters. About a year and a half ago, I made a video with Barcroft TV about my story and how I got my stoma. I was so excited to be asked to do this as it was an amazing chance to help raise awareness and help other people who may be struggling. The video was posted on a few sites and I remember scrolling through every comment to see what everyone said. No matter how many lovely and kind comments I got (which are really, really appreciated!)… these are the ones that stuck in my head:
- “Some things should be kept private. Like this.”
- “Give us a break. Barf.”
- “Wait. She wears bikinis with that thing? … that’s disgusting…”
- “…no one needs your bag in their face.”
- “Thanks we all needed to see that. Gross.”
- “I would feel so betrayed yet again by life, I’d shoot myself out of spite.”
- “Can we offing not?”
- “Huh? Hide it don’t show it off”
- “I don’t mind chicks with a little baggage, but that’s too much!”
These are the comments that I thought everyone was really thinking. But then I realised, they do not know who I am or what I’ve been through. Watching a 5 minute video doesn’t give them the right to insult me and hundreds of thousands of other ostomates. When people put nasty comments on something, they just get on with their day – not giving a second thought to the damage they might cause. They might not know that their comment might just push someone over the edge. They might not realise that that person is a real life human being, trying to make their way through this complicated world we live in. They wouldn’t dare say anything mean to their face so why would they say it online? Because they have a screen to hide behind? Because it doesn’t feel real? Because they’re still a ‘nice’ person so it doesn’t matter? It does matter.
If you get these kind of comments, as much as it is hard, focus on the positive ones. Focus on the ones that make you feel happy and proud. Because you deserve to be happy. It’s not your problem – it’s the online trolls’ problem. They don’t know who you are or what you’ve been through. Their opinion doesn’t mean anything. They are not even worth it. Block them. Report them. Do whatever you have to do. Let’s make the world a more inclusive, accepting and kind place.
But, unfortunately in today’s world, we do need more than kindness.
Is kindness really enough or our mental health? What about the under-funded services and support that is needed for our mental health? Better understanding is paramount for mental health, along with kindness, but we actually need support services more readily available. The waiting time to receive help on the NHS is a maximum of 18 weeks (according to their website). That’s over 4 months. A lot can happen in 4 months. The NHS desperately needs help to try and cut these waiting times down to help as many people as they can, rather than only helping the ‘worst cases’ – prevention is always so much better and safer than recovery.
When I was suffering from anorexia, they decided on treatment options using my BMI. Not my mental state. My BMI. I first had an appointment with a mental health nurse for my eating disorder when I was 15. My BMI was still healthy so she wasn’t worried about me, despite my mental health getting worse by the day. Two years later, at 17, I was one of the worst cases they’d ever seen. Imagine what if I had been given the support I actually needed 2 years earlier? Rather than being tossed aside because I wasn’t physically ill enough. Due to the lack of resources, this is what happened. And I know this is something that happens all the time. By being on a waiting list or being dismissed as ‘not ill enough’, mental health problems can deteriorate, work or schooling may be interrupted due to having to take time off and relationships may fall apart. It’s not good enough. Some people can afford private support which is a lot quicker, but many just simply can’t – this is why we need our NHS.
Not only do we need to fight to keep our NHS, we need to fight for it to be properly funded so people can actually access the support rather than waiting for months on end whilst their lives may be getting worse. We need NHS staff to be treated fairly with the respect they deserve. We need to stop the cuts in funding and support. Yes, mental health needs kindness. But mental health also really needs a fully funded and supported NHSÂ so people can get the help and support they need.
* If you are experiencing any problems with your mental health or know someone who is, I have a page on Mental Health Information as well as Crisis Support Helplines – including the numbers for various charities like Samaritans, Childline, Switchboard LGBTQ+, National Domestic Helpline (Refuge), Rape Crisis – amongst others that may help. You’re also always free to contact me about anything if you wish.