There is a Ukrainian orphanage not far from the site of the debris from Malaysian Airlines MH 17. This week the staff have had to send away 200 plus children from the orphanage to somewhere the children “could heal”. Last Thursday as the children were playing in the fields next to the orphanage, bodies started to rain down around them. Not just bodies but body parts. Can you imagine that? For the life of me I can’t imagine bodies falling from the sky around me. I am thankful that I can’t imagine it. But these children will always know.
In all the horrific news this past week, this story really struck me. Firstly the innocence of children being caught up in the wars happening on our planet. But more so because these children live in an orphanage and by that sheer fact it is reasonable to assume that they have already suffered more trauma than any person should. And now to have to be sent away from their ‘home’ so that they can heal from more trauma just seems so wrong to me. These children deserve the protection of adults, yet it is adults who are making these wars.
Another news story and children were playing hide and seek on the beachfront of Gaza when missiles launched in hatred rained down on the children, both killing some and injuring others. Again, children who should be safe.
There has been so much tragedy, affecting thousands of innocent people. And it continues. What scares me perhaps most is that this becomes common place. That we somehow become comfortable with the bloodshed. Of course those affected personally, those who have lost loved ones, they will never become comfortable with it. But what about the rest of us? Do we just become used to this? Please god, no!
If my counting is correct, there have been three planes down this past week. Three planes too many. A quick search on the net today tells me that something like 15 planes have been shot down since the 1980s. I admit I don’t remember any of them. When the tragedy of MH17 is foremost in our minds this week, it is hard to imagine that we could forget. But we will. We will move on and there will be some other tragedy in the news.
I believe that we owe it to the children to remember. To say this is wrong, and to keep saying it until it is heard. It is one thing to say that Ukraine and Gaza are so far away. “What can we do?” “It was not our playing fields where bodies rained down on innocence.” That is so true, but it could easily have been our children, our people.
I do not believe that war is the answer in any of these situations. Bloodshed of innocent people is just wrong. And if we don’t start saying it more, then no one is going to hear.
I feel heartbroken by what is happening in our world. I can’t bear to watch news reports. Like reports of lines of hearses in The Netherlands yesterday waiting to take bodies away for identification. Recently I haven’t been able to cry, even though there have been plenty of things to cry about. Simply there have been no tears. But now I cry.
It would be easier to not watch the footage. It would be easier to say “it’s too hard to watch” but I think I owe it to the victims to watch. More so, I think I owe it to the victims to speak out and say that this is wrong. There has to be another way. I believe that way is peace. And if we, the relatively unaffected, don’t say so then who will?
“If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace.”
‘Involuntary’ is a word many of us feel uncomfortable using in terms of mental illness. Personally I have always hated the fact that sometimes an involuntary admission to hospital is exactly what is needed. I’d like to think that we are always in control of ourselves enough to make the appropriate decisions on care for ourselves. Unfortunately it’s not the case, and it’s something that has come to my mind this week.
I think I had about four times when the decision to hospitalise me was taken out of my hands. That’s out of many more ‘voluntary‘ admissions – more than I can count over nearly 10 years. A couple of times my (now ex) husband made the decision for me, the others saw the decisions made my the hospital staff because there was simply no one around to make that choice for me.
Of course there was no ‘choice‘ for me. I kicked and I screamed. Literally. I was a totally different person than the person I am today, simply because I was so unwell. I hated my husband, although usually I loved him. How could he do this to me? He knew hospitalisation was the last thing I wanted, but he did it anyway. Ouch! That really stung!
When it wasn’t D making that choice, it was people who didn’t even know me. That stung too, and it felt like the whole world was against me and there was no one around who loved me enough to be able to save me from what I dreaded. Of course, no one was going to ‘save’ me, in the way I meant.
I had all the psychiatric treatment you could imagine across the years, but each time I knew that it boiled down to being my choice. The ironic thing though, is that even when you are voluntary patient, you know how easily that can change. Strangely you only know that once you are inside the walls of the hospital. ‘Involuntary’ can get slapped on you so fast that you wonder what ‘voluntary’ really meant anyway.
I started to realise this week just how grateful I now am, for those decisions being taken out of my hands. I read (as you possibly have too) of a woman, who struggling with mental illness and the ongoing effects of prolonged domestic abuse committed a crime. She’s now facing charges for the attempted murder of her children. Apparently family members tried to have her hospitalised the day before but she wouldn’t accept the hospitalisation. Obviously I don’t know all the details, but I wish for her that decision was taken out of her hands. It sounds like she was too unwell to be having to make that choice, and of course the choices she made in the next 24 hours were catastrophic. I dearly hope that somehow she gets the treatment she needs anyway, instead of the current round of judgement and condemnation.
When I was admitted on an involuntary basis, my life was at risk and I’m ashamed to admit that one time, it was a life other than my own that was at risk. Me being ‘locked up’ was to save that life.
To be ‘locked up’ at the discretion of a judge was the last thing I wanted. But had that not happened, I probably wouldn’t be alive today. And other possible consequences mount up in my mind beyond being able to put into words, nor is it something I want to talk about any more openly in such a public forum.
I am glad my husband signed my rights away those times. I have no idea how difficult that must have been for him, simply because we don’t have a relationship now where we could talk about it. It must have broken his heart to see his wife so unwell that he needed to take this step.
To commit someone involuntarily must be easier when the family don’t have to be involved, as was the case for the other two times. I have never been in a position where I had to direct someone to take a loved one’s rights away but finally, all these years later… I can see that they did the right thing.
So to D, and to those hospital staff, thank you. I hated you at the time, but you saved my life. For that I will always be grateful.
“The horror of the Pit lay in the emergence from it, with the return of her will, her caring, and her feeling of the need for meaning before the return of the meaning itself”.”
“What’s all this talk about an earthquake?” says Mum.
That was my 86-year-old mother’s question for me when I arrived at her home a few days ago. I was astounded that she didn’t know. It was pretty much ‘the’ topic here in the past week.
Today is the 3rd anniversary of the deadly earthquake that struck my city of Christchurch at 12.51pm on 22 February 2011. Naturally the anniversary has been in the news this week, but Mum couldn’t remember an earthquake being at this time of year. Actually, I was really thankful. This woman had lost so much in that earthquake. More than most. She deserved to have it lifted from her memory for a bit. I was glad, for once, that she had no idea what I was talking about.
As we then talked, her memories came back, but we had over 12,000 earthquakes over a period of about 18 months so it wasn’t surprising that she couldn’t remember one of them. Then she was confused as to which quake she had fallen over in. I assured her that in that quake, thankfully, she had already been sitting down when it struck and she managed to remain in her chair as her home fell to pieces around her. My father though, was thrown to the floor. So was I.
As part of a range of commemoration events in the city, there is one that I find draws me each year. The River of Flowers is an opportunity for the public to share their experiences and hopes for the future by throwing a flower into one of the two rivers that flows through the city, and by writing a message of hope and tying it to a tree as various points. Throwing my flower into the river which has always been important in my life, is for me, letting go for a few moments of the sadness, trauma, loss, and worries about the future. It feels healthy to me, and I like that.
Natural disasters, like our quakes, happen across the world all the time. Something that had never occurred to me until I lived through this, was that the aftermath goes on for years to come after a disaster. When the media and their cameras have all gone away, and the rest of the world isn’t hearing anymore, the sad reality is that people go on suffering.
Three years on and my life is still unsettled (to say the least). I now have a chronic illness (fibromyalgia) which is attributed to the trauma of the quakes. I live in a severely damaged house and still have no idea how that will be fixed. My house is pretty cold in winter because of the damage, but aside from that, I’m simply used to the damage. That said, don’t suppose for a minute that I like living in a house that is now tilted on a bit of an angle. Or the curtains blowing in the breeze even though no windows are open. But it’s just life here in Christchurch and I know there are people here worse off than me.
I know full well that mental health is a major issue in my city. Children are still badly traumatised, as well as many adults. Free counselling sessions just don’t go far enough. Three sessions per person is not enough. The use of anti-depressants has risen significantly. The psychiatric hospital is overflowing and they’re talking of putting inpatients into caravans out on the lawn. Suicide statistics tend to run behind by a few years, but I understand the numbers are sadly picking up in my city. Let’s not forget too, that there is a major housing shortage here now as well as significant poverty. These both contribute to the state of mental well being.
But this is what really disturbs me…
A year before our deadly earthquake, Haiti (Port-au-Prince) suffered a quake too. 220,000 people are estimated to have died on 12 January 2010. In Christchurch, there were officially 185 people died. At the height of the Haiti quake, one and a half million people were displaced and sheltering in tent villages. That’s just huge. And it makes me say “what have I got to complain about?”.
While I wonder about the ongoing mental health of those who lived through the quakes here in Christchurch, I wonder even more what is being done for the people of Haiti. Do they get access to free counselling like we have? Are the children getting the resources that are being pumped into Christchurch. It is so difficult to know what is being done for victims of natural disasters when the lights go off on the media bandwagons. That said, I have a fair idea of the answers to my questions.
Whether it is an earthquake (or 12,000), a volcanic eruption, a hurricane, a bush fire or any other devastating event somehow we need to remember that life afterward is changed and will probably never be the same again. Not just the physical welfare of victims matters, not just the infrastructure and buildings that have to be rebuilt, the mental health of victims will continue to be a major issue for years to come.
Somehow I think we forget, once the media have gone, and even more so we forget when the media never really got there. It seems to me that third world countries recovering from disaster, do it very much on their own.
While today, I remember a day I never want to experience ever again, I want to remember people in other countries doing similar recoveries. I have been fortunate to have access to welfare, Red Cross funding and the like. I never ended up in a tent city. I have insurance cover to rebuild my home (when they finally get to it). But for so many people there is none of this, and those people are the ones I have on my mind today.
“How strange it (the earthquake) must all have seemed to them, here where they lived so safely always! They thought such a dreadful thing could happen to others, but not to them. That is the way!”
Today (10 October) is World Mental Health Day. Yes, I accept that for some of you I am a day early. That thing called time zones always has me a day ahead of everything, but maybe that just means we can have two World Mental Health Day’s. What do you think? Twice the coverage? It would have to be good.
My first task on this day was to go look at what the World Health Organisation (WHO) have set for the theme of the year. This year’s theme is the elderly and mental health. Personally I think this is a great theme, not simply because we are all getting older, but because I have an 85 year mother for who I have some responsibility to help as she copes with what old age throws at her. Old age ain’t pretty (and I’m not talking looks) but it’s actually not what I have on my heart today, so I’m deviating from the theme. Apparently that’s allowed.
I am worried about what is happening about the mental health needs of those on our planet who aren’t fortunate enough to live in first world countries. From where I’m looking it doesn’t seem like there is a whole lot of support for people with mental illnesses in the third world, and perhaps war-torn countries, let alone for those who are simply trying to maintain a good level of mental health.
Look at the globe depicted in the hand in the image above, and that says a lot to me. Because it seems that all the world’s focus is on the countries who actually probably have the resources to handle their needs, if they just managed them properly. But where are the poorer, less resourced countries? They are the ones that need to be targeted.
I like the focus there is on veteran mental health, and the need identified for post traumatic stress support and treatment for those who have served in war zones. But what about the people who live in those lands as their home? What are we doing to treat their post traumatic stress? They experience trauma too.
A few weeks back there was a major (7.7 magnitude earthquake in Balochistan, Pakistan). Having lived through a number of catastrophic earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, I admit my ears prick up when I hear there has been another major quake somewhere in the world. While this doesn’t directly relate to World Mental Health Day, what struck me then was the scant media coverage of the tragedy. For some reason the people of Pakistan suffering and being killed was of seeming little importance to the world media, and so it sadly becomes of little importance to the world.
And that’s where I get back to World Mental Health Day. When world media decide for themselves what they class as important, people miss out on the aid and treatment they need. The survivors of that quake will be in all sorts of need for mental health support right now, but what’s the bet that half of us didn’t even know it happened?
What else matters to me? I’ve been thinking about the situation in Russia with the open abuse and restrictions on those people who identify with LGBTQ. I wonder if you are a transexual, Russian woman how you access good and safe psychiatric care for your Bipolar Disorder? The gay, Russian man with suicidal depression? I’m wondering whether they are of any priority to the people and services who have the skills and resources to treat these people? They need and deserve the same standard of care as the heterosexuals in that country.
I don’t know the answer to these questions but I damn well hope someone does. I hope someone has these peoples needs on their priority lists.
World Mental Health Day is a wonderful tool if we use it to ensure that mental health services stretch right around the globe. If World Mental Health Day is just for the first world countries then I think we are all letting down our fellow human beings. We are one planet and we are all worthy of quality mental health.
“I’ve always thought of wholeness and integration as necessary myths. We’re fragmented beings who cement ourselves together, but there are always cracks. Living with the cracks is part of being, well, reasonably healthy”
On Christmas night I sat down for a short while to watch the headlines of the daily news on television. I have been cutting back on what news I watch recently because of the often traumatic nature of it. Now days I might watch the first ten minutes and then leave it. That way I know some of what is going on, but don’t need to torment myself with the rest.
The first story was the record number of people who had attended the Auckland (NZ’s largest city) City Mission Christmas dinner. These types of free meals have been run in major centres for years, and provide a free meal and entertainment for those who can not afford to have their own celebration.
What struck me was the way the newsreader told it. There was almost glee in his voice as if he was talking about record numbers attending a car show, or some other event where record numbers would be looked on as a good thing.
For me, I see the record numbers as a terribly bad thing, that more and more people are having to turn to charitable organisations to enable some celebration of Christmas. We should be looking to find ways of making these numbers go down rather than up. It’s just wrong. Ironically there were even people there who were tourists in New Zealand. the bus tour they were on had brought them there for their Chritmas meal. I admired the head of the City Mission who said it was fine they were there because they were seeing another side to New Zealand. I just hope they paid for their meal.
I love that these events happen each year, and actually I have grown up all my life being part of such events. My parents would regularly do family Christmas celebrations for us at lunch time on Christmas Day, and then we would be involved in putting on a community meal at night for those who had no where else to go. Mum would do most of the cooking and Dad would be out front welcoming people. Us kids were often doing the dishes.
It is wonderful that so many give up their time (and money) to run these meals, but the fact that there is growing need for such events simply suggests to me that people are struggling more and so many people are alone.
This is one event where record-breaking statistics should be very unwelcome. Yes there will always be people alone, and for them I am glad these events still exist. But many of the people attending are families who simply can not afford to celebrate Christmas.
Straight after Christmas Day, in this country comes Boxing Day on 26 December. It is a day recognised in most Commonwealth countries (although feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). Boxing Day used to be a day to go to the beach in New Zealand, or better yet, the day to head off on your summer holiday.
Traditionally though, Boxing Day was a day to give money and gifts to the poor. I grew up with the explanation that is was the day when servants packed up (in boxes) all the left overs from Christmas, and gave them to the poor. Also it was a day when servants who had worked hard through Christmas Day, could have time off to visit their own families.
Boxing Day is probably one of those events where there are many different explanations, but it seems that giving to the more needy is a common thread. I suspect most countries who recognise Boxing Day have lost this aspect to it, and I think that is sad. I also have this question in my head of why the poor had to wait to simply get what amounts to ‘leftovers’? And why couldn’t the rich give to the poor before Christmas?
I think what disturbs me most is what has happened to Boxing Day now. Boxing Day has lost that charitable aspect and now is a consumer day. It is now the day when the retail sales start, in the same line as the Black Friday sales in the United States after Thanksgiving.
How did we go from a day recognised for giving to the poor, to a mad scramble around the shops to get the best bargains possible? Isn’t there something wrong with that?
Personally I don’t handle large crowds of people and so the idea of going shopping for the Boxing Day sales is completely beyond me. I’m not interested in what bargains I might be able to get, and would rather preserve my mental health.
Boxing Day was yesterday in New Zealand, and like I had done the night before, I watched the first ten minutes of the television news. The headlines were the record sales for the retail sector.
What I’m wondering is how many people buying up on Boxing Day could really afford what they were buying? How many purchased on credit, and will struggle to pay it off? And dare I say it, I wonder if there were people at the Christmas Day meals who were also at the sales, trying to get a bargain? I don’t mean to criticise them personally. I criticise a system that has the extremes of wealth and poverty, which no one appears to be trying to align.
There is something wrong with this side of the story. The news readers don’t stop to align the two, but I bet the social workers who will be trying to help people budget their money know it only too well.
“Every life deserves a certain amount of dignity, no matter how poor or damaged the shell that carries it.”
It’s been a busy week for the news media. Wow, I guess they’ve all earned their negotiated salaries, although I do wish they would be paid somehow on the basis of what truth they spread. Social media has also been busy. Often partly a response to the news media, sometimes spread what they’ve called their own ‘truth’ and sometimes simply spreading lies (like the news), or popular opinion.
It’s made me pretty sad. Sometimes it’s made me cry, that they can get away with saying the things the do, let alone convincing a somewhat gullible public that they are right. Other times I took my own advice (Step Away From Your Screen) and literally stepped away from my computer, my television and my phone. I had to do that to save my mental health because the whirlwind of information (true or otherwise) has wanted to wrap me up in it. At times I wanted to fight some battles (because that’s who I am) but mostly I took my advice, backed off and watched with sadness.
During this week a lot of people have died in this world as a direct result of violence. There are the many who have made the news media, but there are also many more that we never hear about, yet their death’s are just as tragic.
The obvious victims are the 27 children and adults who were shot in the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. A tragic loss of so many lives that were mostly just beginning.
For a moment I want to consider two other deaths I have been aware of this week. One is the 28th person to die at Sandy Hook, the shooter himself who turned the gun on himself. Another tragic death I heard about this week was a man in England who was murdered in his own home. The details aren’t really important to what I am thinking, apart from to say that it appears his death was some type of vigilante pay back for a crime this man had recently been accused of having carried out.
In the case of both these men, the news media and the social media have played a part in spreading accusations and generalisations. One man we have heard a lot about, the other you probably haven’t heard about. What hasn’t been given is the truth. We don’t know what is real and what is simply hearsay.
What I do know is that both of these men were just like me, in some ways. They weren’t so different. They had blood flowing through their veins. Like me they needed love, affection and acceptance. At some point they had both probably been hurt badly, just like me. These men were human beings, just like me, who it appeared that for some reason, everything went askew.
Maybe it was mental illness, maybe it was a developmental disorder. Maybe too, they had some degree of evil (whatever that means) in them to drive them to the things they are said to have done. Those things haven’t been clarified, yet the world has been quick to condemn. Of the Connecticut young man I have seen a number of people describe him as ‘not human’.
That’s what leaves me sad. I’m not condoning the actions of either of these men. It was all wrong, and terribly devastating, particularly for those who lost family members and friends.
But these men were human, just like me. And somewhere in spite of the horror of what has been happening, someone is no doubt grieving for them too.
I believe that these men were victims too. I know that might be an unpopular stance to take, and I have no problem with people disagreeing with what I write (as long as I don’t get abused for an opinion).
Once, a number of years ago, both men were little boys and sometimes I find it helpful to think about them as when they were innocent children. Again, because of the tragic death of 20 children last week it’s even hard to look at one of these men that way. It just helps me to realise that while something has gone terrible wrong, these men were once just like you and me.
Yesterday I was at a barbeque (it’s summer here) which was a Christmas party for a group of people I know. At one point I was sitting at a table with a lovely young man who I don’t know very well. I’ve only met him a couple of times but what I do know is that he has Asperger’s Syndrome (a condition that has been subject to much media scrutiny this week).
It occurred to me while I was sitting eating my lunch with him, that it must be pretty difficult for him this week. I know what it’s like to be looked down upon because I have a mental illness. This young man doesn’t even have a mental illness (that I know of) yet the media have been putting him and other sufferers of Asperger’s in a group and saying we have to be careful of these people. Apparently they might do ‘what Adam Lanza did’.
This man I was sitting with was, again, just like me. He doesn’t deserve to be judged just because he has a disorder that makes him a little different from me. Like me, he was enjoying having a drink, eating fresh berries and getting silly ‘Secret Santa’ gifts. He had less to say for himself than most people on the group but that was the only noticeable difference. He was, like me, having a good time.
Let me be very clear. I’m not saying that horrific crimes committed against innocent people are acceptable. They’re not. It’s a terrible tragedy what has happened this week. But we can’t afford to be looking at these people and thinking they are somehow different to us. I’m not qualified to say why they might have done what they did. I do have views on things that need to be done in society to prevent this from happening again, but those aren’t important right now.
What is important to me is that all the people who died this week (somewhere in the world) as a result of violence are human like me. Someone loved them. And to me, that puts a slightly different spin on things.
“The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy, we can all sense a mysterious connection
to each other.”
~ Meryl Streep
“Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant with the weak and wrong. Sometime in your life, you will have
been all of these.”
Something very terrible happened yesterday in Connecticut, and there’s no denying the trauma that has caused for many people, both those involved directly and those of us who are watching it all replayed on our screens. In what I am about to say I am not down-playing what happened, nor am I ignoring the needs of the victims and survivors. What I want to talk about it how do we manage our feelings as onlookers.
I have a mental illness, and because of that there are a number of things that I have difficulty with. I know I’m not alone in this, and that’s why I am stepping away from my normal policy for my blog of not giving advice.
I just want to share something I’ve learned over the past couple of years. With the shooting yesterday I know the automatic thing is to sit glued to the news channels, etc. Don’t. You’ve got the facts. Now turn off the television/computer/ phone, or whatever your source of media information.
The media are there to give us the information but so often in times like this, they ‘play it up’ for want of a better term, they go on to talk about why something has happened, and really they don’t have the knowledge or the experience to do that without setting people off on tangents that really aren’t helpful. They might give us information but they make it more emotional, hype us up and leave us more upset.
It’s hard for anyone to handle, but it’s harder for people with mental illnesses for a number of reasons. Firstly our moods can already be lowered, and news like this plummets anyone’s mood lower. For some people (including those like me who have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) we struggle at best of times to regulate how we’re feeling. News like this leaves us unsure of how to react, and how to manage those feelings we have. The temptation can be to reach out to unhealthy coping mechanisms like drinking, drugs, self harm and the like.
We know it’s happened, we know it’s terrible. But we don’t need to go on tormenting ourselves by watching it. Turn it off, light a candle, say a prayer or whatever you need to do, and then do something nice for yourself. We don’t need the details replayed to us, over and over again. Turn it off.
The other thing that is difficult for people with mental illnesses is the inevitable talk of whether the gunman had a mental illness. I am choosing not to debate that here because I don’t think it’s helpful right now. What does matter is that if we have a mental illness ourselves, we can hear what the media, or other people say about people with mental illnesses… and we hear them saying that stuff about us.
Suddenly we’re thinking that media and others are saying we’re capable of such terrible acts. That’s not what is being said, and if it is then they’re saying it as a cruel generalisation. It’s hurtful and it’s dangerous.
It was only a couple of weeks ago that I commented on my personal Facebook page that watching the television news was very traumatic, and that it could replay in our minds things from our past. I said this in relation to a weather event in New Zealand, because watching it had brought to mind all I had experienced in our earthquakes in Christchurch during 2010/11. Simply watching the television was replaying my traumatic memories.
What is being played on television and other media today, and in the weeks to come, is traumatic for anyone. But for a person with a mental illness is going to be so much harder to bear. I really believe (and am choosing to do this for myself as much as possible) that it is time to turn it all off.
Remember the victims and the survivors. Think of those who are working to help the town grieve for their lost. But what good can come from having it replayed over, and over on your screen? What is something more productive that we could do? One thing we can do is something to soothe and take care of ourselves.
“And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure . . . And your friends will be properly astonished to see you laughing as you look up at the sky! Then you will say to them, ‘Yes, the stars always make me laugh!’ And they will think you are crazy. It will be a very shabby trick that I shall have played on you…”
“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.
Last week in my post What Battles To Fight?, I was frustrated by having too many battles I wanted to fight. Too many things I disagreed with strongly. I knew I couldn’t tackle every battle, and if I did, it simply wouldn’t be any good for both my mental or physical health. It was nice to know (from the comments that followed) that I wasn’t alone in this frustration. I’m suspecting that perhaps there is a certain type of person (of which I haven’t yet defined) who just can’t let go of the need to try to make things better in this world.
One of the battles I mentioned in that post was about how news media, social media and some mental health organisations were handling the news of a suspected suicide of a young woman who had a pretty hard time at the hands of others before she apparently took her own life. At the time, I made a comment on a blog post hosted by a mental health site but elected not to get involved any further. As time as gone on though, I have got more concerned by this situation.
I’m purposely not giving specifics here because I refuse to add to the mayhem. I’m sorry if you find that frustrating. I guess the issue got personal for me yesterday and I came away from that really worried about the consequences of when things ‘go viral’ on this wonderful invention called the internet.
Yesterday I was asked by another young woman (through social media) to view a video she had made and placed on You Tube. I was reluctant, but agreed to watch it simply because I was concerned about what message others who I have contact with, might end up watching and possibly be disturbed as a result of viewing.
It was disturbing. It covered topics of bullying, mental illness and self harm. It was in a very similar style to the original video I had been concerned about last week. The video, that I understand has now been freely viewed by more than six million viewers. After watching the new video I had the opportunity to talk briefly to the young woman who made it, and asked me to watch it. After setting some boundaries (based on the role that I was in) I asked her what she was hoping to achieve by making and posting the video. Her reply?
“I don’t know” Actually as our conversation continued, I became more convinced that she did know, but she just didn’t expect anyone to question her intentions. I can only guess at her intentions now, because shortly after she ended the conversation (apparently I took the matter too seriously), and she was gone.
I certainly hope that this doesn’t end the way of the original video, (Please God, no!) which she had pretty much copied, although added that she herself was a bully and individually named some people who she considered were also bullies. In the time we spoke, I had enough information to be concerned, but not enough to warrant trying to get some professional help for her. I also didn’t have the time as she elected to end the conversation. But this much I know… she needs professional help and I hope she reaches out and gets it.
At that point my responsibility had to turn to others who also witnessed my exchange with her (including some who also watched the video and made same connection I did). Maybe this was all about trying to seek attention? I don’t know. If it was, then she got some attention, but perhaps not quite what she was hoping for.
My concern is about how many other hurting people are seeking attention, or crying out in a similar way to the first person? How many millions watched that first video (perhaps after being encouraged to watch it by media organisations) and assumed this was the way to get noticed, get attention, make someone hear that they too are struggling. How many chose to self injure, and then show evidence of their injuries because perhaps they got that idea from what they saw? How many choose to act out suicidal thoughts because they think that is the only way to be noticed, and to end the pain they are in?
When I questioned the author of the original post (from where I had got the original video link), why she had provided her readers with the link to that original video I got the reply that everyone else was doing it so why shouldn’t she. A further comment to another reader also suggested that young people will see harmful stuff everyday, so somehow it didn’t matter if she encouraged viewing. She also added that it was the wish of the mother of the dead young woman, that people see and learn about the realities of bullying.
I have no desire to hide from the reality of bullying, mental illness or self harm. Actually I think it is important that these issues be discussed openly so that we avoid stigma, and also so that the secrets that some people carry with them, do not have to have the harsh consequences of shame.
That said, how these issues are discussed is crucially important in taking care of the people who view. The mother of the dead woman apparently wanted other parents to watch the video her daughter had made because other parents need to be aware of the risks of bullying. I totally accept that was her wish, and I don’t mean to criticise that at all. The problem I have is that those parents are not the only people who watch such videos.
It would be interesting to view some statistics of those who watched the original video. How old were they? What was their reason for watching? Did they have some personal issues of their own which were reflected in the video? And perhaps most important to me, did they have somewhere safe they could talk about what they saw?
There are consequences when things go viral. Both positive and negative. Yes, we get a message ‘out there’ about the need to stamp out bullying, but we also get already hurting people, hurting more and probably having nowhere to turn to get help and support. On what do I base my opinion? That I am fairly sure that had I watched that video five years ago when I was trapped in self harm behaviour and addiction, I would probably have felt the need to harm myself as a response to what I saw. Thankfully that is not my reality today, but I suspect for many it would be.
I read an interesting blog post on this subject today. The writer took a different approach to mine, but s/he made a good point:
“We cannot kill the current state of the internet to protect people, because keeping the internet open and free is a great means to protect the very same people.” (1.)
The internet serves a good purpose in providing an access to support for many people. There is no doubt about that in my mind. But it can also be an access to triggering and emotionally disturbing material for those same people.
All I would like to see is that both sides of the coin are considered equally. Personally, I would not have left the original video on You Tube. It could be useful in some monitored setting, but the potential harm is too much to risk, in my view. Immediately on viewing it I could recognise that there were potential triggers for people regarding suicide, bullying and self harm. I am sure it could have been edited to eliminate some of these triggers, but still keey the message her mother wanted. It could also have had help-line contact details at the end, so that people needing help could access it.
Yes, I am an idealist. Ideally, this young woman who died would have been spared the pain she went through. Ideally, she would still be alive today. Ideally, others would not be traumatised by watching her video. Ideally, viewers would have got the message that young woman’s mother wanted to get across. Ideally, the other young woman, with whom I had contact yesterday, would also have found another way to feel loved and important. Ideally she won’t go on to self harm further, and she will get help.
I know we don’t live in an ideal world, but I am convinced that we can take more care. When things go viral, we need to consider all the consequences.
“When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”