This year’s Mental Health Awareness week, by the UK charity the Mental Health Foundation, starts on 18th May. This year it has the theme of kindness.
Why kindness and what does that have to do with mental health and wellbeing ?
“We have chosen kindness because of its singular ability to unlock our shared humanity. Kindness strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity. It is a cornerstone of our individual and collective mental health. Wisdom from every culture across history recognises that kindness is something that all human beings need to experience and practise to be fully alive. “Mental Health Foundation, 2020.
There is quite a lot in that statement that is worth exploring a little more.
Connection and community – in these days of social distancing and lockdown our sense of connection can feel very limited. It is those small, simple moments of closeness like a hug ,which feel very much missing at this time. We live at a time when technology can assist, from social media platforms to video calls. Perhaps during this week take a moment to connect with someone you haven’t heard from in a while, send a message, make a phone call, to say hello. You don’t know how much that might mean to them. It is those connections that support our community and that sense of community is often underpinned by acts of kindness.
Shared humanity – it can often feel very lonely when we are struggling with our mental health. Yet many of us do suffer from poor mental health, some at brief moments in our lifetimes, some of us for most of our lives. The thing with mental health is that how you are feeling is often hidden. We hide behind a mask of ‘I am doing okay’ , sometimes we don’t feel able to be vulnerable or show how we feel, often we hide from ourselves how we feel. That means you may not know how the person near you is feeling, what they are experiencing or what challenges they face. Maybe you taking a moment to show some kindness could be the brightest part of their day.
Cultural wisdom – many cultures and religions have the golden rule , that is to treat others as you would wish to be treated. This perhaps underpins our shared humanity. Perhaps we need to refine the wording, to treat ourselves as well as others. Why might that be needed?
That might be answered by considering the question who deserves kindness and do you include yourself within that? Many of us have a harsh self-critic, who notices all the mistakes we make, who notes our weaknesses more than our strengths and we often speak to ourselves in a more harsh manner than we would to someone else. Considering the golden rule and bringing a more kind, warm tone to our thoughts can help turn the harsh critic into an encouraging supporter. Such a self-compassionate approach can help us to look after our mental wellbeing as we live our lives.
“But kindness is an intrinsically risky endeavour. It can risk us looking foolish or being taken advantage of, which is why we sometimes retreat. To receive or to give kindness is an act of courage. “Mental Health Foundation, 2020
A final thought on kindness and compassion….These are often used to mean the same thing, but it can be argued there are differences. Kindness can sit alongside a cruel act. Kindness can be well intentioned but result in an unhelpful action. Kindness may be performed without understanding the distress of another. Compassion brings a motivation to notice and act in a way that alleviates, where possible, distress. That motivation brings with it a wisdom of what would be helpful to do and the courage to take an appropriate action. Professor Paul Gilbert from the University of Derby highlights that it’s both this intentionality and commitment within compassion which makes it different from kindness.
What is inarguable though, for our mental wellbeing, societal benefit and the collective natural environment , there is the pressing need for greater kindness and compassion to others, from others and to ourselves.
Have a gentle week full of moments of kindness. 💚