This week marks Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 which has the overarching theme of kindness.
Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, we have all witnessed the incredible impact of acts of kindness on the ability of our communities to cope with the unprecedented changes we face to our ways of living, of connecting, and of coping. Reflecting on kindness and in fact the significant impact of this crisis on our mental health and wellbeing, I believe there are two important messages to consider.
1) That it’s ok to feel overwhelmed and worried. That it’s ok to ask for help.
The immediate priority in the response to the Coronavirus pandemic, as demonstrated by the lockdown measures, was our physical health and protecting the NHS to have the capacity to treat and care for so many patients. However, mental health and wellbeing is also significant and will have a long-lasting impact on how we recover. No aspect of our lives is untouched by this crisis.
As both a nation and individuals, we are facing challenges. We are concerned about our loved ones. We are experiencing a much more physically distanced and isolated existence. Our schools and workplaces have closed, remote working is very much the norm, and opportunities for social connection have been significantly reduced. We are worried and fearful about an uncertain, but undoubtedly challenging future, with threats to our society, economy and very way of life. And let us not forget those who have lost loved ones, or are dealing with the post-traumatic effects of the virus.
The combination of these changes present a significant challenge for all of us, but for those with existing mental health issues, it has created a perfect storm.
We need to show patience and kindness, both to others and ourselves, as we tentatively journey through this pandemic. There is no roadmap for how this crisis has developed, how we are managing to cope and juggle our responsibilities, how we all feel deep down and whether we need to ask for help. The act of simply being there for each other can have a transformative and hugely positive impact on mental health and wellbeing. Let’s all do what we can to look out for and help those who need us.
2) That there is real hope for the future.
Many of us will struggle, but the resilience of the human spirit is strong and powerful. Post-traumatic growth can enable us to be stronger, kinder, and better. We have the opportunity to change the social fabric of our communities, to entrench kindness as a necessary facet to our survival, to ensure we have learned important lessons from this pandemic and to emerge as a kinder, better society.
We would expect the long term impact of this pandemic on mental health to be considerable. As well as policymakers being prepared for the unprecedented number of people requiring access to mental health services and charities providing much-needed support, what could we do as a society? Are we not now in a better and more informed position to support those experiencing mental health challenges? Have we not learned the critical importance of social support, of connection, of protecting the isolated and lonely and of breaking through physical barriers to find solutions? Have we not been shaken to the core by this pandemic to the extent that we will no longer take for granted what we have and how fragile life is? And perhaps most importantly, has the battle we have all faced helped to reduce the stigma that surrounds mental health, making us all so very aware of the very fine line we tread between coping and not coping?
We all have the capacity to shape the way ahead. Let’s look out for and be there for those who need our support more than ever. Let’s help to eliminate the stigma of not coping and of asking for help.
Let’s make kindness matter much much more than it ever did before.