Jasmine Urquhart examines how we can be kinder to each other in today’s society.
The recent events of Caroline Flack’s passing have caused us all to reflect on Love Island, the media, and whether a celebrity in the spotlight deserves to have their private life reported on in such detail. But even though the discussion around these events has died down, the main takeaway from this tragedy is as important as ever - that we should be kinder to one another. A person doesn’t need to be living in the dramatic situation that Flack was living in leading up to her death for them to deserve kindness and concern. We should be kind to everyone, regardless of whether they appear to be going through a difficult time. But when the possibility of mental health issues are involved, a lot of us may feel at best under-qualified to offer help, believing that there is nothing we can do, or at worst, judgemental of the person going through that difficulty. However, it is easier than you think to be there for a person, and sometimes that is all you need to do: show that you are at least trying to help.
When trying to reach out to help someone, we need to try to understand that someone’s anxiety, depression, or other mental health issue, is very real to the person going through that. We need to understand that the mental health difficulty is linked to a physical response in the body: the intrusive thoughts typical of anxiety are often coupled with a high heart rate and acute shortness of breath, while someone with depression will have a very real lack of energy, and can feel exhausted by the tiniest of physical activities. Instead of wondering why someone is feeling this way, desire not seeming to have an external physical trigger, we need to try and accept that this is happening and work through it. So try not to be the person telling them to “just breathe” or “calm down” if they are distressed: this is a real physical response from the body, and it is just as unhelpful as telling someone to “just walk” if they have a broken leg.
Once you understand and respect people who have mental health issues, then you can offer more tangible help. It is impossible to be there for everyone all the time, but knowing how to spot the signs of someone who is struggling is a good starting point. Sometimes we think we know who needs help, but we don’t often think of the people who are acting hostile or mean: more often than not, people who regularly make fun of others are feeling quite bad about themselves, and instead of pushing those people away, we should instead think about what the reason behind this behaviour is. If a friend is acting out, for example, behaving rudely or guarded, they are probably going through something, and people in their lives will vanish when they need them the most. If you notice a friend is acting differently, or has suddenly turned into a “bad” person, maybe try offering a listening ear. But as always, respect your own boundaries and don’t overextend yourself for someone who doesn’t respect you.
Once you know who to help, you need to know what to say and what not to say. Do not ever say to someone: “Get over it”, “it could be worse” “you’re pushing everyone away” or list all the things that they should be grateful for. These people are constantly telling themselves that they are a bad person, and they don’t need to hear that from someone else. You might feel bewildered as to why they have such a negative outlook on the world, but it is essential that you take their concerns seriously, as whatever they are going through, it is a real thing for them. It is easy to feel compelled to offer advice or to suggest a solution that will fix all their problems, but this isn’t really helpful for a lot of people. Instead of saying “you’re so dramatic”, or “did you try doing x?”, try saying “you deserve to feel better”. Try not to make people feel guilty for burdening you (it’s true that someone depending on you all the time can take a toll on anyone, but there are delicate ways to approach this), show them that they are brave for opening up, and let them know that you love and care for them. The most important thing to do, by far, is to take away the pressure and guilt that they will feel for asking for help, and let them know that they are accepted no matter what.
By far the most powerful thing that you can do for someone who is struggling, is to spend quality time with them. This is important, because a struggling person may not even value themselves enough to look after themselves, which can become a vicious cycle of self neglect and self hate. So encourage them to do something different, like a walk in the park, or a visit to a new restaurant. This will take them outside of their environment, and they will unconsciously feel better because they are not stuck within the same four walls, worrying about whatever is on their mind. Overall, it is essential that this help comes from a good place of genuine concern and love. Simply reaching out a helping hand and showing that you care and are trying to relate to them is definitely the most powerful thing you can do.