This isn’t a typical post for severeyouthmentalhealth.org – not even for one of our BLOG posts. But so many important topics overflowed from these recent statements in relation to youth mental health issues that we just had to comment. The real problem was knowing where to start! But here we go …
Yesterday, Andrew Bolt, an Australian media commentator, wrote a column in the Herald Sun newspaper the subject of which was Greta Thunberg, a Swedish activist whose personal protest on climate change inaction grew into a worldwide phenomenon that she continues to lead. *
As you’ll see by the areas highlighted by us above, he chose to make the mental health issues that Greta deals with the thrust of his story. He chose to refer to her as “deeply disturbed“, “strange” and “fragile“. So not only did Andrew Bolt deny the science of climate change about which Greta has proven to be so well-informed but he showed himself to be as ignorant as too many sadly are in relation to complex youth mental health issues.
There are many ways to respond.
This is how Greta Thunberg did it:
Our inclination is to list some key facts in order to directly address those affected by severe and complex youth mental health issues who may have read Mr Bolt’s column:
1. We are not our health issues. Our identity comes from many things with some of it becoming evident in the ways we choose to express our values. But who we truly are is not delineated by our liver malfunction, by our malignant cells or by our mental health issues.
2. We cannot be defined by our chronological age. We can be shaped by our physical and cognitive development (which are result of our unique genetic make-up and experiences within the environment/s in which we have lived), by our interests and principles and abilities and … more. Our chronological age can be linked to a number of those things but the fact alone that we 16, 60 or 6 gives little indication of who a person is.
So – ‘The World’ will never see us as we truly and perfectly are – each human being is so many things making up a multi-faceted individual that even those close to us will never know us absolutely. 100%. And that’s OK. But we show aspects of ourselves through the words we choose to share (and who we choose share them with) and the actions that we take.
3. Our words and actions have implications for others. We can think only of ourselves and what suits our personal agenda or we can consider other people and how what we say and do will impact them.
4. The truth can hurt but there is no excuse for using misinformation to hurt.
5. We can choose to be negative or we can choose to be positive.
So – we can find ways to make things bad, we can criticise … we can create a persona that engenders fear from statements that aren’t true because, sadly, that can garner enough interest from a public so desperate to ensure they are prepared for the worst that advertisers will pay for your house and your boss’s mansion and his boss’s castle.
OR we can think about what we can do that could be useful, helpful, kind. To others and to ourselves. We can use positive words – encourage ourselves, compliment others, share inspiring/funny/exciting things, discuss solutions to a problem. We can take positive actions – do a chore that isn’t ours to do, make someone laugh, find a productive way to contribute to important issues or causes that matter to us, … and on a day we feel we can’t do anything at all, to just try and do one thing is something to be proud of.
Greta Thunberg is many things.
Continuing to manage a number of health issues is not her identity but it shows that, with the right treatment and support, individuals can apply their specific skills and passions to learning and understanding, sharing knowledge, inspiring and energising others, trying to improve some part of living in the world.
So here’s our improvement on the headline for an article about what Greta Thunberg is doing:
You can be inspired.
But don’t forget that YOU CAN ALSO BE INSPIRING.
To try to achieve something positive when you have your own challenges is inspirational. It is brave. And strong. Whatever you are trying and whatever the outcome.
And to those who are yet to have a good understanding of the reality of severe and complex mental health issues, all of the above also applies.
It applies to us all.
* If you want to find out more about Greta Thunberg’s work (beyond clicking on the links in the 2nd para above), you can go to the following news reports:
and/or view her Tedx Talk by clicking on the image (above right)
A good source of summary information as well as questions and discussion points to engage students and others with news on global events is the edition relating to Greta of The New York Times’ “Learning with …” series.