One of the very best things that we have back (post-Covid) is chats at work with colleagues in the kitchen. These are the best conversations (and I will very much miss them when I leave Mental Health Australia in a couple of weeks). Today three of us were talking about the terrible impact on us and/or individuals in our families of bullying. As older women we were recalling incidents of face to face bullying witnessed or experienced at school before the cyber era and we noted how much more toxic the online environment seems to be for young people these days.
But it’s not just young people, right? We witness online bullying in public view when we are scrolling through our own social media.
And people say such terrible things to one another – even to strangers. Throw away lines, challenging truths, amplifying lies, discounting and ‘cancelling’ real experience. Words can and do hurt. Words matter.
I am a Medibank Private customer so I have been thinking even more about this lately. This current cyber breach could create new ways to bully people on line – to threaten revealing personal information and breaching one’s privacy and thereby seeking financial gain.
Kudos to our colleagues at AFAO who have quickly stepped in to support their constituents in this respect. We note that CEO Daryl O’Donnell has underlined the risks saying “When someone’s confidential health information is exposed it can profoundly affect their health, relationships and employment. Many people will find this deeply distressing”. We join with them to encourage people to reach out to authorities when support and advice are needed.
People’s personal story about their own mental ill health is theirs alone to know, understand, manage and if they choose - to share.
It is not for anyone else to comment on or publicise or use to inflict shame. Words can and do hurt.
And words can also build, support, encourage and calm. We shared our stories in the kitchen at work about the impact of bullying but also about friends who stand up for each other, and young ones who find ways to guard against the impact of shocking and unkind words and actions, and families who gather around and balance negative messages with love, respect and honour.
Each one of us has a choice to make every time we reach for the keyboard or click “reply” on a social media post. Choose compassion.