Maybe people need less positivity, and more empathy.
Spend just two minutes scrolling through whatever platform of social media is your poison, and you’ll notice a prevailing theme. Sure, it might be said in different words, “keep a positive mindset,” “good vibes only,” “attract the life you want,” but the message remains the same—those difficult, painful feelings you might be experiencing shouldn’t exist.
Where these uplifting quotes might be well-intentioned, they can be unhelpful for those who are struggling—particularly for those dealing with mental health issues. It can already feel hard to quantify and express what’s really going on, and many have the added obstacle of being without a safe space to talk to anyone, making a person feel further isolated.A PSA video posted to YouTube perfectly captures the lonely reality that many face when dealing with a mental illness and a culture of what’s commonly known as “toxic positivity."
The video focuses on teens, primarily teens of color, who became a higher risk for mental health issues in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. These young people are met with less-than-helpful messages from friends and family like “It’s all in your head,” “Think happier thoughts,” “I don’t know why you're so sad, you’ve got a roof over your head” and the (sadly) ever-popular “Men don’t cry in this house.”
You can watch the full video below. It’s only one minute long, but that’s all it needs to make a powerful effect:
It’s not until they are shown true empathy that things turn around, when asked, “Do you want to talk about it?” and being told that someone is there for them. It really is such a simple thing that has profound effects.
The video ends with a slogan that pretty much says it all:
“The world doesn’t listen. Be the friend who does.”
The PSA is part of the Ad Council's Seize the Awkward campaign, in collaboration with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and The Jed Foundation, meant to help others learn how to create supportive conversations surrounding mental health. The campaign’s website has a page dedicated to providing helpful tips for those who might be concerned about a loved one.
If you or someone you know are having thoughts of suicide or require mental health support, call or text 988 to talk to a trained counselor at the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, or visit 988lifeline.org to connect with a counselor and chat in real time. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress as well as prevention and crisis resources for healthcare professionals.