CW: Discussion of mental health
When Meghan Markle revealed that she had been struggling with her mental health to a troubling degree in the recent year, the media decided that the appropriate response was to call her a liar and submit her to further abuse. If this is the response a princess gets, how are so-called ‘ordinary people’ expected to speak up when things get tough?
As many on social media were quick to point out, Meghan is unlikely to see the thousands of comments from users claiming she is a scheming liar or making up her struggles for attention but their friends and followers who are struggling with similar issues will.
With such a harmful discourse dominating our news and feeds, people who struggle with mental health could be even more discouraged to come forward and seek help. We need to challenge this discourse and counteract the narrative of silent struggle.
Summoning the strength to speak out is hard enough
It takes a lot for someone to come forward and voice their worries. Whether it be from the fear of burdening your loved ones to simply being too afraid to seek help, there are several reasons why raising your voice may be tough.
As it is already such a brave and difficult step for someone to speak up about their internal battles, the last thing they need is a response of dismissal intended to challenge the legitimacy of their own feelings when they do. “Are you sure it’s that bad?”, “I know people who have it harder” or my personal favourite “well we’re all dealing with that right now”. Summoning the strength to speak out is hard enough but to be denied or ignored is even more disheartening and can lead to feelings of helplessness.
People who are suffering often deal, in my experience, with imposter syndrome. There is a tendency to invalidate your own struggles or to tell yourself that you are overreacting or that your problems are not big enough or severe enough to make a fuss. Therefore, when people do not listen or deny the truthfulness of someone’s battles it feeds into their own self-criticism and in most cases makes matters much worse.
Validate and individualise their struggles to counter the shifted narrative
Remember, if you are struggling with something then there is not a single person that can tell you that you are not. Ultimately, you are the only one who truly knows how you feel, and your feelings are valid and real. How do we challenge the narrative that attempts to silence those who speak out? By creating a safe space. This can be done privately with your friends or more publicly on your social media. Letting people know that you are there with an ear to lend whenever it is needed can help encourage them in feeling comfortable enough to talk to you.
Show that you care, listen, and reassure them that they are not a problem and that they can turn to you. Validate and individualise their struggles to counter the shifted narrative achieved through blanket statements like “so many people are feeling like this”.
Check in with your friends. A lot of the time people who are not saying anything at all are struggling more than you could imagine. If you have not heard from someone in a while reach out and see how they are doing. So many people believe that they must deal with their problems silently and in private to not disrupt the lives of others. A quick message can be enough to make them realise just how much they have needed someone to talk to.
Do all you can to counter the harmful discourse
Helping others is important but it is also crucial to maintain your own mental health while doing so. You are not a therapist and therefore you cannot always help those who turn to you in the ways you want to. Instead, find resources you can recommend to them or encourage them to find further help.
There are a lot of advantages in finding out more ways in which you can offer support to those dealing with specific issues. There are multiple resources online with tips on small things you can do to help a grieving friend, a friend battling addiction, a friend facing depression and so on. Finally, be aware of what you are posting on social media. What are you contributing to the discussions around buzz news stories? Is it a negative response? Could it be damaging for someone to see?
There are a lot of instances in which celebrity news stories, such as Meghan Markle’s, can become representative of larger issues and when this is the case the way you choose to respond publicly sends a message to those who follow and are close to you. Listen, support, and do all you can to counter the harmful discourse surrounding the denial of mental health struggles to create a safer space for those who need it.