In a period where we are being literally inundated with information and really distressing news and images of the reality that surrounds us, I find myself reflecting on some of the more (dare I say) positive aspects of this pandemic. They were difficult to see at first as I, like many of my fellow humans, was also feeling angry, not grounded, confused, sad and a lot of other emotions that I found difficult to make sense of at first. But I've started noticing a shift over the past few weeks and I decided to start paying attention…
In my patch of the world we are still in lock-down. A less restrictive lock-down than other countries but one that still very much has a significant impact on our lives. I feel quite fortunate to be safe and well at the moment and I am quite aware of my privilege, that can feel uncomfortable when there are so many people suffering. But I am also very aware that for the first time (definitely the first time in my generation) we (the human species) are all living through a very similar experience and sharing some of the suffering, with all the different facets that are unique to us as individuals.
Don't take me wrong, I am still seeing a lot of anger, sadness and other difficult emotions around me and these are absolutely understandable, given the circumstances. But I am also seeing a sudden shift in how we talk about mental health, especially mental health in the workplace. I'm not sure how it happened, as it all felt really quite sudden, as our common enemy Coronavirus pushed its way into our lives. What seems to have happened is that suddenly mental health has become everyone's business in a less stigmatised way.
Never in my life have I seen so many articles, guidance documents, broadcasts talking about mental health. In no way am I suggesting that this situation has completely resolved all the issues around mental health and the stigma that still surrounds it. However, I notice that people (clients, colleagues, managers…) are more open about what they are feeling, how they are struggling, how they are coping, regardless of their job role or "status" in the world. There is less of a rush to pathologise distress and push it away, because it is something uncomfortable for us to tolerate, and more of an acceptance that it is absolutely ok not to be ok at the moment.
This new narrative is very powerful in enabling people to feel safer in sharing that they are not ok and the response from many is "why would you be ok right now?". In the same way as pathologising human distress closes conversations due to internalised stigma and shame, this new acceptance opens up conversations and opportunities for moments of powerful human connection. I wonder why we can only accept this to be the case when there is a trigger that is so tangible and obvious to all of us. It should always be ok not to be ok!
I ask myself, why now? What is it about this "common enemy" that brings us all a little closer? It fills me with some sadness and anger that we had to wait for a global pandemic to start "getting it right". There is anger because those of us with lived experience have had to fight painful battles to get our voice heard and fight the numerous layers of stigma. It makes me sad that many have lost their lives because of stigma. But it isn't just anger and sadness I am feeling. I am also hopeful. I am hopeful that we might be finally able to push through the layers of stigma and recognise that mental health is absolutely everyone's business and that this is not just the case because there is a global pandemic caused by a tiny but incredibly powerful virus. Isn't mental health an important aspect of being human after-all?
The question I am left with is how do we keep this going when the world returns to some form of normality? How do we not lose this new acceptance we have achieved? How do we make sure that the open spaces to talk about our feelings and sit together as humans are maintained beyond Covid?
Because the risk is that when Covid finally leaves us (and it will eventually leave us) it will be all too easy to return to our "positions" in the world and forget that for one moment we were all just human beings doing our best in less than ideal circumstances. So when Covid will be no more than a distant painful memory, let's make sure that we use this as an opportunity for change to finally get it right and end the suffering.
I leave you with a beautiful rainbow and message from my country "andra' tutto bene" (it will all be ok) in the hope that you can hold on to hope during these difficult times.