Is it Really OK not to be OK?

The last 2 weeks have been strange, the death of Caroline Flack hit hard, I am immersed in the world of mental health 24/7 and yet the weight of this loss is difficult for me to shake off. I didn’t know Caroline, I was a huge fan and I don’t know why but from the first moment I saw her on screen many, many, years ago I loved her and felt connected to her in some way. Maybe it is because we are both Scorpios, maybe it was because we are the same age, maybe how funny she was, her talent and love of musical theatre? Maybe I saw myself in her? Or maybe, with hindsight, maybe it was her subtle vulnerability that drew me in? I believe it was all these qualities together that made her somebody I was so drawn to. When she followed me on my personal Twitter after meeting her for the first time, my whole family knew about it, she was awesome and very kind.

What underpins all of what we do here at Bridge the Gap is compassion, empathy and emotional literacy; it means not passing judgement and never de-humanising anyone for mistakes they make. As a society we do it all the time, we see behaviour in such a way that we punish people for being human from a very young age, even babies and how they sleep are viewed as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

I have made many mistakes over the years, when I was younger I behaved in ways that made me feel so ashamed, I didn’t understand why I behaved in that way or what to do about it, all I knew was I was bad. It’s how society makes you feel, how peers make you feel. Suddenly you go from being human to someone who’s up for discussion, you are fair game in terms of mockery, judgment and isolation. That shame and how it makes you feel stays with you and is so damaging. We know that the effects of shame can be long lasting, which is why we must always be reflective in how we choose to respond to our young people’s behaviour.

We have seen a spike in young people in crisis since the death of Caroline and as we talk to so many it is clear that shame and low self-esteem underpin many of their concerns and thought patterns; this is beyond upsetting and we need to address it as a society. One child we work with feels so ashamed of his behaviour when he is angry that he can’t even say it out loud. If he can’t talk about it then we can’t discuss what’s underneath the anger, problem solve and move through things together.

He is 9 years old.

“I don’t want to be judged; I try so hard not to do it”

He is 9 years old.

When the news of Caroline’s relationship hit the headlines, we no longer saw the person, it was the behaviour we talked about. When what we needed to be asking was ‘why?’. It’s so ingrained in our society that it is going to take a lot to make real change, it has already taken so much, but we can’t stop trying, trying to be better, kinder.

If we are really serious about #mentalhealthawareness and #itsokaynottobeokay then we need to show people, by recognising that ‘not okay’ looks different for every.single.person. For my younger self who now understands ‘why’, after years of de-humanising myself in my head, for the 9-year-old in our space, for Caroline, and for every other person who has lost their ability to stay.

We owe it to them all.

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