Grief, anxiety and fear are some of the emotions many of us have felt repeatedly over the last few months. This pandemic has resurfaced our worries and insecurities. One of the victims of COVID-19 has been our mental health, both collective and individual. Life as we used to know it has come to a standstill. This pandemic has forced us to confront emotions that we were trying to keep at bay. It has aggravated the feelings of loss, guilt and absence resulting in sending us into overdrive of thinking. It is normal to feel overwhelmed and tired of everything around us.
The impact of COVID-19 on our mental health and its psychological effects will stay even when we overcome this virus. This pandemic has made visible the deep rooted inequality in our society. As poverty, starvation and economic disparity between the privileged and the deprived keeps on increasing, our mental health is likely to deteriorate. The marginalized sections of society are more likely to suffer from mental health illnesses. We are looking at a future of mental health crisis and we still do not talk about it openly nor do we have adequate infrastructure to deal with the impending consequences of this crisis. Amount of conversations we are having about mental health are not enough for crisis that we are yet to witness. Conversations about mental health are still not normalized and people continue to attach shame and stigma with it. Therapy and professional help continues to be expensive and not accessible by all. In our educational institutions, workplace and our homes, functioning needs changes to become more welcoming to those who have been excluded till now. Considering all this, being kind to each other should be our first step in trying to understand what could be done and finding ways to make this world a better place.
As much as this time has felt like a hopeless monotony, it has taught us some valuable lessons. It has taught us that in the end all we have is each other and kindness can help us get through darkest of days. Many of us went through phases of depression, restlessness, loneliness during the lockdown, frantically calling our family members and friends, trying to make sense of the uncertainty or shutting down emotionally and mentally. In those days, talking helped and knowing that someone cares about your well being, helped. Talking and listening are verbs and acts, the underlying emotion is that of kindness and the motive is to be there for someone and that is what we need. Kindness is how we all get by.
I believe that power of kindness is underrated. News during the pandemic was a gloomy space but even in these dark times, acts of kindness found a way to shine through. We were reminded that generosity and sense of belonging is what makes us human. When many parts of the world went into lockdown, kindness is what we were left with. I have spent ample amount of time thinking about the materialistic gains that we have been conditioned to build our life around when it is actually the simpler things that we need to get us through difficult time. All the wars around the world to procure more weapons and armaments and all the countries fighting over control of technology and data but when we were sitting alone in our room during the lockdown, all we wanted was to hear a loved one’s voice to know that they were fine. It all makes you question if our actual priorities were those which we were convinced to think to be essential for our happiness. Consumerism and capitalism have convinced us that buying something will make you feel fulfilled and an app will solve your problems but this pandemic reminded us that there is no replacement for real human presence.
Researchers have found that kindness helps people deal with mental illness better. Research has also shown that acts of kindness produce feel good emotions and reduces stress in humans. Acts of kindness have immense power to inspire others to be kind. Reading accounts of people’s battles with mental illness and how they are dealing with it and helping people around them deal with it during the pandemic has helped me in educating myself about mental health. Sharing of stories are powerful, it makes you realize that you are not alone. In the knowledge that we are going through similar experiences lays the understanding that we need to be kind to others. Everyone is going through something, whether their struggles are visible or not and to be able to build a world that is inclusive we need to be empathetic. Collective compassion helps us to remove the stigma attached to mental illness and break the stereotypes attached with mental health.
Humans are wired to be compassionate and benevolent. Our species has survived by cooperating with each other and protecting each other. In ancient times humans lived and traveled in groups and every person of the tribe had a responsibility towards the tribe. In being part of a community, humans have found safety and comfort. Helping others is empowering. In helping others we find ways to help ourselves and be grateful for what we have. It benefits our own mental health and overall well being. It teaches us to be patient with others and ourselves. Being kind and witnessing kindness, both can have positive effects on our mental well being. Witnessing kindness can be like a tight hug from a loved one in a world where we all are deprived of familiar touch and fatigued by video calls and invitations for webinars. When it all feels like the end, kindness can affirm your beliefs in goodness and make the world around you feel a little less cruel.
Many people around us are suffering from mental health issues and this time of uncertainty has made matters worse for them. There needs to more conversation around mental health and those conversations should lead us to more nuanced and educational discussions that can contribute to a more well informed society. We also have to be mindful of the language we use when we talk about mental health. A lot of terms we use can be triggering to people who have had disturbing experiences in the past. A part of being kind is also educating yourself about things you don’t know and trying to practice what you learn in your everyday life to become better version of yourselves. One can find many acts of integrity in history books. Internet is filled with people helping those in need, arranging for food for the hungry, helping people to reach home during the pandemic. It is also filled with news of violence and hatred but preservation of our mental health also requires us to make the choice of what we want to pay our attention to. In this time of social media, fake news, sensationalism and overloa of information, it is crucial to make choices of filtering out negativity and in this process to be aware of our choices. Another part of being kind is to start from your own self. We can’t be kind to others if we aren’t kind to ourselves. Sometimes we find our sense of purpose by helping others. In helping others we also help ourselves.
If there has to be one good outcome of this pandemic, it should be humans becoming more considerate and understanding about mental health issues, especially after many of us have faced isolation, panic and anxiety and know how it feels. Every devastating event in history has been an opportunity for humans to start over again and this pandemic is no different. We can remodel the institutions around us and make them diverse and transparent. We can prioritize kindness and mental, emotional and physical well being over accumulation of wealth and we can design an world better than how we found it.
In a world where everything is adamant in convincing you that selfishness and aloofness is going to help you become successful and powerful, being kind is a courageous act. I hope you find the courage in you to be kind to others and to yourself. In these dark times I hope our kindness and humanity shows us the light.