It goes without saying that we are living in challenging times. The systems of power that have created rises in conflict and violence in the Middle East, Ukraine, and against LGBTQIA2+ and Indigenous rights in our own country have very real implications for mental health. Hateful and oppressive rhetoric and legislation have direct impacts on mental health. According to the CMHA, "Three significant determinants of positive mental health and wellbeing are: social inclusion; freedom from discrimination and violence; and access to economic resources." Many people are also struggling to cope with images of violence and suffering that they are not directly impacted by otherwise, and may not realize the toll this is taking on everyday wellbeing. Research demonstrates that exposure to images of war can result in symptoms of depression, anxiety, nightmares/sleeplessness, trauma and overall stress for people (even if they aren’t directly attached to the conflict). People who are not directly impacted by these forms of violence may feel guilty and helpless on one hand, but compelled to stay informed and supportive at the same time. This is a tough and tiring balance to negotiate, so we have compiled some tips that may help you cope during global conflict and collective traumas.
Be intentional about your exposure to violent imagery and political rhetoric
The media is ablaze with depictions of violence and conflict. Spend your time and energy wisely, taking breaks from social media and news, and being very selective about the people and sources you follow and whose content you consume. Not every news source is reputable or free of biases, especially against marginalized communities. Be mindful of the political spins and biases that are placed on systems of oppression and violence. Select news sources that are non-partisan and reputable, and choose how often you get updates. For example, perhaps you take your lunch break to see what’s happening, and avoid the news cycle in the evenings so you can decompress. And if you want to unplug entirely for a period of time, that is not a selfish choice but rather a responsible one. We recognize the privilege in being able to disconnect from witnessing or being directly impacted by global violence.
Remember, you are by no means entitled to everyone’s opinion on tragic world events, especially given that we all process global traumas differently and our identities and lived experiences impact our relationship to these events. It can be a huge source of pain and anger for people when they see tragedy being weaponized for political clout or views.
Choose who you spend emotional energy on
We all have family members, friends, neighbours, or coworkers who hold different political views and opinions from our own. You have permission to reduce contact with people who may be combative, and may not respect your desire to avoid arguments and/or triggering content. The people who truly value you want to see you feeling well and will put care into understanding your worldview or otherwise respect your choice to disengage. As with social media, it’s okay to keep your bubble small during tough times. Lean on those who make you feel safe and supported, and hold space for them as they may need support too.
If you have the energy, give back and find community
If you have the means to donate to organizations that support the communities you care about, you are welcome to do so. If you do not, there are other ways to combat feelings of doom and powerlessness. Volunteering at a community level can have a positive effect on your own mental health, reducing isolation, and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Reaching out to organizations in your community (including those that aren’t connected to current global conflict) reminds you that you have purpose, and you can affect positive change where you work, live, and play. Seek community with others who share your values and want to support the communities you care about. By helping others, we help ourselves - giving back and taking collective action makes us feel more hopeful in enacting change, and reminds us that there is kindness in our world.
Talk to someone
Simply reaching out to those you care about can have immediate positive effects on your mental health. You don’t necessarily have to talk about distress over global events if you don’t want to. Check in with loved ones and remember that your simple presence is often a huge support to others.
If you are finding that your symptoms are becoming unmanageable, talking to a professional may help. Reaching out to local help lines, community mental health programs, your health team, and/or a therapist are all options.