Kindness and Mental Health
May 18, 2020
by Jack Sargeant AM, National Assembly for Wales
Earlier this year, Carnegie UK Trust were pleased to work with Jack Sargeant AM and the Welsh Government to hold a roundtable on kindness, politics and policy in Wales. At the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, we are delighted to host this blog from Jack on #kinderpolitics.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme is kindness. I have spoken before about my personal struggles with poor mental health – problems with depression, PTSD, bouts of anxiety and struggling to sleep, following the death of my father by suicide. These experiences have driven me to champion kindness in politics – what I have referred to as #kinderpolitics. I am always pleased when people respond positively to my calls, but this has not always been the case. People who don’t like this brand of politics have mocked me, sneered or even gotten angry.
So why is kindness so important? Put simply, it is because our actions have a huge impact on the mental health of others. This isn’t just the need for kinder political discourse, for people to wind it in on social media and stop using the press in a way that attacks the person rather than debates the solution. Kinder politics is more rooted than that and in my mind is the only way to create kinder communities, kinder public services, and kinder more equitable budgeting. This is going to be key if the current crisis is going to exacerbate the public health crisis that is the nation’s mental health.
I congratulate the Mental Health Foundation on choosing kindness as their theme and working to focus our minds on it. As individuals, in the same way we have behaved as if we all have the virus and socially distanced accordingly, we should treat each other in a way that assumes someone is having a difficult mental health day and needs our empathy and a smile. As politicians and human beings, we should remember that we will disagree, and we will fall out but there is a difference between that and being intentionally unkind.
As far as policy goes we should hardwire the lessons we have learnt – that services need to be flexible to help people and stop sanctioning those that fall marginally outside of appallingly rigid rules – in short the lesson we learnt in primary school, treat other how we would want to be treated. We also need to learn the lesson that the way we reward contributions to society is skewed to reward the powerful and not the useful. Never has the phrase “low-skilled” to describe our cleaners, carers, supermarket workers, delivery drivers, refuse collectors or nurses seemed more inappropriate. These are the very people who have been shown to be the bedrock of our society and deserve to be recognised and rewarded.
Finally, specifically on mental health, I do not want to hear the phrase “treat mental health provision the same as we treat physical health provision” unless we really mean it. Politicians, political parties and manifestos should reflect this – more money for early intervention, more money for proper holistic support, easier and better access to counselling services and stop using the police as the first or only response when crisis hits and instead ensure people have appropriate healthcare pathways.
With kindness at the heart of what we do we can build a better future so remember, be kind.
For more information on our work on kindness visit: https://www.carnegieuktrust.org.uk/project/kinder-communities/