Let’s Be a Bit More Careful With Other People’s Mental Health

Happy New Year readers! And welcome to the January to end all Januaries. It’s largely cold and dark and we’re all stuck inside once again because of the plague. Truly it’s the most Januaryish month in history.

I’m not a fan of lockdown, as I probably expressed a lot last year…I understand why we’re being locked down again, I support it as an action that needs to be taken but you’ll never see my clicking my heels in delight at the prospect. I am simply not built for isolation.

But one of the worst aspects of lockdown last time was not my own situation but the conflicts on social media when everyone chose to work out their anxieties by criticising other people. It was totally understandable that it all happened that way – it was an extreme time and none of us had ever experienced anything similar. So we had a mass freak out and everyone’s freak outs exacerbated everyone else’s freak outs.

This time, it’s a little different. We should have more of a handle on how this work. So, in my mind, it’s slightly less excusable to attack others on social media just because of your own anxiety. Yet, it still happens. The guidelines allow for exercise with one other person once a day, which for many is a mental health lifesaver. I only manage it more like once a week because of work but still, a takeaway coffee and a stroll through the park with a friend at a safe distance has made this lockdown more bearable than the first. And this lockdown has, in effect, has been in place since November, in spite of the technical tier changes that went on during Advent.

The risk posed by two people from two households, both alike in dignity, taking a walk hasn’t been formally measured but given the mitigations – open air, distance, limited numbers – it seems fairly small. But the benefits can be huge. So it’s frustrating when I yet again see people on social media forbidding others to take that walk because the guidelines tell you to Stay At Home. Firstly, it’s not accurate because the activity is well within guidelines. Secondly, it’s treating other people’s mental health very carelessly. It’s giving others commands that may well plunge them into despair if their only chance of fresh air and company is snatched away. The prospect of endless weeks of confinement will causing lasting damage to some people. When I read my posts back from last Spring, I can feel the despair in them. Hardly surprising when I was grieving the loss of all my hopes and plans, as well as grieving a friend. So I’m taking steps to ensure I don’t get back into that state of mind.

Our words carry immense power and you can say or write them without ever knowing the full extent of their power. Someone could carry those words with them indefinitely while the originator could throw them out into the universe and move on. A political scuffle on a local, group recently led to several private messages to individuals that carried with them threats of legal action. I largely shrugged mine off but what if it had been sent to someone vulnerable? Someone who was already struggling to cope? It could have been disastrous. Our words matter and we need to be careful with them.

I wrote, almost a year ago, about the #bekind hashtag, which I thought was shallow and ineffective. I was right – as soon as the pandemic hit, people forgot all about #beingkind and starting attacking one another. I said at the time we need to underpin #kindness with proper understanding but here’s the thing – we didn’t. The crisis pushed us past that moment and our attention turned to other things. Maybe it’s time to revisit the idea of properly understanding other people’s situations. And if we don’t understand, hold back. Don’t jump in with both feet just to have Our Voice Heard. Consider what someone might be feeling, what the repercussions are. Treat other people’s mental health as if it was as important as their physical health.

Or maybe that’s too much to ask?


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