Updated: Mar 16
Social media can be a beautiful virtual world, a world that brings people together who may never have crossed paths otherwise. However, it can also provide a platform for those who like to turn social media into an ever-evolving cesspit. You can always count on the uncompassionate, insensitive and narrow-minded trolls to fill up the tank, looking for any and every opportunity to ruin someone's day.
I had the misfortune of witnessing one of these cold-hearted fools in action the other day. One of the people I follow on Instagram, @thehonestbloke to be precise, bravely opened up about the self-criticism, social anxiety and depression he was experiencing whilst on holiday. Anyone who follows James will know that he created his page and shares these intimate thoughts, feelings and experiences for the sole benefit of others. Unsurprisingly, there was reams of support for his honesty and courage in sharing his experience so openly. Love and compassion were being thrown around like confetti on a wedding day. And then I saw it : the comment. To quote:
"I sympathise, you need serious medical help and spiritual work to be grateful for all you have because you could be alone in Ukraine now fighting for life after your wife and children escaped to Poland. Think how depressed you would feel then but you wouldn't have time for it."
It's fair to say, my initial reaction was a combination of:
It pretty much mirrored my reaction to the Euros final last year and the moment Ru Paul revealed that Gigi Goode had not won the crown. Yes, still bitter about both.
Anyway, back to the important point I was making.
It goes without saying that what is happening in Ukraine is heart-wrenching. We are not here to debate that. I don't want to detract from the fact that what is going on in Ukraine is inhumane, unjustified and deeply disturbing. However - and I can't believe I'm having to explain the following but in light of what I saw, here we are - in no way should global events be used against people who are struggling with mental health issues to suggest the psychological and emotional battles they are fiercely fighting on a daily basis are optional.
War and mental health issues are not directly comparable. Yes, one can be triggered by the other and yes, both experiences have been forcefully inflicted on the victim, but that's as far as the comparisons go. No one is denying that those of us who do not live in a war-torn country are lucky to not have to experience the impact of conflict every day. But this luck doesn't protect you or make you immune from developing a mental health issue, especially given they can be induced and triggered by so many things. For some, it can be as simple as your bloody genes!
If the comment that had been made was directed at someone who was living with terminal cancer or someone who had advanced dementia, there would be absolute uproar, as there should be. So, I ask you, what's the difference? We should show people struggling with mental health issues the same compassion as we do those who are living with a physical illness.
Having lived with anxiety and depression myself in the past, I cannot stress enough how much no one actively chooses to feel that way. Those who have suffered with any sort of mental health issue will tell you that the only thing they want is for the illness to disappear instantaneously because of the all-consuming, incessant and often paralysing worry, shame, guilt and fear it brings.
What has society become if, when people are asking for help, our response is to tell them there is someone worse off? Every year, we all share the tragic statistics concerning the number of men that sadly take their lives. We recognise that something needs to be done. Telling people to be grateful for what they have when illnesses, like depression, rob you of the ability to see anything but interminable darkness and despair is far from a solution. It is victim blaming and shaming in one of its purest forms and we have to do better if we really do want to prevent people from exploring what they believe is the only way out.
Please do continue to support the people of Ukraine during this deeply upsetting time. They undoubtedly deserve all the time and effort that is being donated across the world right now. But please do not use this catastrophic war to drive people into an even darker hole than the one they are desperately clawing their way out of every single day. We are seeing too much loss in Ukraine as it is without adding to it on our own doorsteps.
And in a world where we have the opportunity to comment on anything and everything if we want to, let me remind you that if you don't know what to say, perhaps consider the lost art of saying nothing at all.