Compassion is not just for pandemics

As an Occupational Therapy trainee, and partner of Open Theatre Company, who currently works in community mental health and also has diagnosed mental health conditions, I feel that this blog is particularly important. It is important for several reasons. 

1) Everyone assumes that mental health is something that they do not have unless they are unwell. This is not the case. If there is anything I want this country to take away from reading this blog is that we all have mental health. Most of us are mentally well and that is fine but your mental health can be affected during times of stress or serious challenges such as global pandemics.

2) I want us all to realise that kindness has to be compassionate and true. I will explain a little more about what I mean by this in later paragraphs but basically what I am saying is posting memes on Facebook telling everyone to be kind or raising awareness of depression and suicide just isn’t enough. In some cases it is actually damaging because it reminds people who have depression that they are struggling. They don’t need to see reminders of their symptoms on the internet. They need genuine, true kindness.

3) This might be the most important thing I want us all to learn, these issues have been here all of the time. They did not just suddenly appear on the 11th of March 2020 when the pandemic was declared (World Health organization, 2020). World mental health day was observed for the first time on 10th of October 1992 to try to raise the public awareness of the issues faced by individuals who are ill and in need of support (World health federation, 2018). I want us all to learn a few lessons here and to try to put true compassion and kindness in place for everyone. Not just people with mental health conditions. That way the world will be a slightly better place. 

We all have mental health 

Mental health is described as ‘a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community (WHO, 2001d, p.1).’ This sounds like something we all want to do doesn’t it? Including people with diagnosed conditions and their families. How can we all cope with the stressors of everyday life if our living situations are bad for example? Now imagine having a mental health need on top of terrible living conditions and Euston we have a problem. 

Since the pandemic we have seen articles which describe how to keep a daily routine and structure during lockdown and how to look after yourself mentally (often called self-care). For individuals with mental ill health which is life long, they will have to battle with the stresses of life and their condition long after the pandemic is over, if not forever so let’s all show a bit of kindness and compassion. There are so many barriers to people with mental ill health achieving even working productively and fruitfully. For example, many people with disabilities have been forced out of work and to stay at home because workplaces will not cater for their needs. Now we have all realised home working is actually a thing (Something which many of us have been saying for a long time.) Hopefully adaptations will be made for people with mental health needs to work from home. 

Kindness and compassion 

When many people think of kindness they think of helping an old lady across the street or they think of paying someone a compliment. Often these things are done for selfish reasons whether people realise it or not. They might want to be seen as a kind person for example. This is not true kindness as if you were truly kind you would not care about how you are viewed by others you would be kind because it was the right thing to do. Whilst these acts of kindness do go a long way if they are true. For example, visiting a lonely old person to make them happy not just because it is a pandemic and you want to be viewed as kind. These acts are not the same as compassion. Compassion is a willingness to understand and listen to the suffering of others (Mcghee, No date). I work with Open Theatre Company in Birmingham and they work with young people on the Autism spectrum to support them to improve their skills and have access to drama workshops. Open Theatre is truly compassionate because they see a community of young people suffering. Being left out of decisions being made about their care. Being left on their own to struggle during a pandemic and they want to do what they can to support these individuals. They are not doing it because they want to look good in the media. They have been doing it for thirty years now because they believe it is the right thing to do. If we could all respond to suffering with true kindness and compassion and a willingness to do something to help others then the world would be a different place. 

Social media for example. On Facebook nowadays nobody can say anything without an instant attack. Everybody has to have an opinion which frankly often turns into bullying the individual who is disagreed with. In the same breath these people are posting be kind memes. This is not an act of kindness. An act of kindness would be to say I understand your point of view but have you considered X or Y. Not you are an absolute moron if you think like that. In this way we can all learn and support each other without spreading hatred and disgusting behaviour on the internet. If we all put this into practice every day I bet all of our mental health would be a little better. 

These issues have been here all of the time 

Please remember that mental health continues all of the time. We all want to be mentally well and happy. The struggle will not go away after the pandemic and we must all think about how we are going to change our ways and act with true kindness and compassion long after the pandemic is over. 

Stay safe everyone and remember – live with true kindness and compassion 

 

– Written by Madeleine Levy

 

References

Branswell, H.; Joseph, A. (2020) ‘Who declares the Coronavirus outbreak a pandemic’ [Online] Available from <https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/11/who-declares-the-coronavirus-outbreak-a-pandemic/> [01/10/2020] 

McGhee, M. (ND) Compassionate Nurse: The importance of compassion in nursing. [Online] available from <https://www.americanmobile.com/nursezone/nursing-news/the-importance-of-compassion-in-nursing/> [01/10/2020] 

World Health federation (2018) World Mental Health day history [Online] Available from <https://wfmh.global/world-mental-health-day/#:~:text=World%20Mental%20Health%20Day%20was,every%20year%20on%20October%2010th.> [01/10/2020] 

WHO (2001). The world health report 2001. Mental health: New understanding. New hope. Geneva, World Health Organization.