Reducing stigma is needed for our return to normality
We may be concerned about our mental wellbeing, or we may be worrying that someone we know isn’t feeling so well at the moment. With the pandemic hammering us with varying degrees of distress, and the recent media shedding light on the stigma that may be rising, we need to nip it in the bud as we return to normality and prevent those struggling from shying away from speaking out.
We hear from Grace McMahon, Beingwell's Life Coach, on how to reduce stigma:
Stigma actually prevents around 40% of people with depression and anxiety from seeking support and treatment. When we fall victim to the stigma around our mental health we can feel ashamed, embarrassed, or awkward. We tend to withdraw from our friends and family, and not seek the help, support and treatment we might need.
In the last year, we have all experienced strains on our mental health, the lockdowns and restrictions have put monumental pressures on us all, from children to grown-ups, across all of society. Some of us have suffered the loss of friends, colleagues, or relatives passing away, some of us have found the loneliness unbearable and some of us have just found the whole thing frustrating and cannot wait for the Friday night pub quiz to return. Whether we’ve found it easy or difficult, the pandemic has taken its toll on everyone’s mental health. Everyone.
“I found the first lockdown particularly difficult, the change and the uncertainty at the beginning caused me anxiety and stress, and boredom, and now I’ve gotten used to it it’s all about to change again which is just as worrying for me as going into lockdown was in the first place.” Stella, Beingwell Family member
So, as we’re taking steps to ease out of lockdown and restrictions are floating away, we need to make sure we’re doing what we can to help those who are struggling with their mental health and to prevent a crisis from happening across society. When we’re seeing, reading or listening to someone’s experience we need to make sure we do so with empathy, without judgement, and without comparisons to others.
“I lost my mum in November 2020, after not seeing her, except through the window and waving from the driveway, for 8 months. I couldn’t say goodbye, I couldn’t comfort her pain, and I don’t have recent memories with her to look back on” Luke, Beingwell Family member.
Empathy is understanding the experience or pain of someone else while knowing it isn’t our own, we don’t need to know the feeling ourselves, or feel it ourselves. But we need to understand that whatever someone is going through is painful for them. It means listening, acknowledging and comforting. We don’t need to give advice, we don’t need to offer a solution, we can simply listen and hold space for someone. And if we have been through something similar, we don’t need to feel the same way or experience exactly the same feelings to understand their pain is real.
“I just want to have my friends over for dinner to show off my new house. It’s been six months and no one has been able to see it yet!” Laura, Beingwell Family member
Who are we to judge someone’s experience, we can never truly know what someone has been or is going through without magically morphing into that person. When we’re listening to someone share what they’ve been through, or how it’s affected them accept what they have to say and don’t question it. Mental health issues affect anyone and everyone.
“I’ve been longing for my children to return to school because homeschooling has been strenuous, to say the least, but now they’re gone I miss them - I feel like I can’t win at the moment” Jamal, Beingwell Family member
Don’t compare our experiences with those of others. We all handle stress differently, we all deal with hardship differently, and mental health concerns manifest in different ways for everyone. Two siblings may have lost a parent, but both won’t necessarily react in the same way. One may take it in their stride and continue with life while the other might find the grief all-consuming and really struggle to come to terms with their loss. We can experience the same circumstances and handle the outcomes very differently, as we have with lockdown as a society.
Supporting the future: Everyone has managed a great deal of stress, pressure and turmoil whether our lives were upturned by working from home or homeschooling or having to put ourselves in danger as key workers, from losing loved ones to missing celebrations; weddings, new babies, birthdays, and even those of us just longing for a cuppa with our bestie or pint in the evening sun. As we return to normality, and people step forward sharing how they are coping, or not, be kind, be supportive and listen without comparison, whether it’s to a whinge about lost opportunities or offering a shoulder to cry on, and helping someone find the right support.
Want more expert insights on all-things wellbeing? Check out the science behind kindness here.