Being open about mental health: How to deal with backlash

Kat Nicholls
By Kat Nicholls,
updated on Aug 5, 2021

Being open about mental health: How to deal with backlash

So often we’re encouraged to speak up about our mental health struggles, but what happens when our honesty is met with criticism?

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics are dominating headlines recently and not just for the sporting prowess on display. More and more athletes are opening up about their mental health struggles. Gymnast Simone Biles, cricketer Ben Stokes and swimmer Adam Peaty have all discussed their struggles and the necessary stepbacks needed to focus on their wellbeing.

Many are applauding this honesty, with it bringing up an important discussion about mental health in sport. Sadly, however, there has also been backlash - with some criticising the Olympians’ decisions.

Speaking to inews, Adam expressed his disappointment with the reaction he’s received.

“Reading some of the comments in response to this is why we have such a stigma around mental wellbeing in sport. It isn’t a normal job. There is a huge amount of pressure. Money does not buy happiness.

“I’m taking a break because I’ve been going extremely hard for as long as I can remember. I’ve averaged two weeks off a year for the last seven years. Unfortunately, there are people out there who think they know you more than you know yourself.”

In contrast to this, pictures of diver Tom Daley knitting to take care of his mental health during the Olympics have been applauded far and wide. Having opened up about mental health in the past, Tom has been promoting knitting and crocheting as a form of self-care which is certainly something we can get behind.

But there is an interesting point here to note - that self-care during the Olympics has looked different for athletes, and the self-care getting negative attention is the difficult decision to step back from competing.

Self-care can be seen as involving light-hearted, ‘comfortable’ activities - like knitting, taking long baths and meditation. And, of course, these are valid and incredibly helpful for many. But self-care can also be tough. It can be putting yourself first, saying no, setting boundaries and withdrawing from commitments. While these actions are rarely celebrated, they are at the core of true self-care.

So what can you do if you’ve opened up about your mental health and self-care but are met with criticism?

Recognise that everyone sees the world through a filter of their own baggage

We all see the world differently and this will depend on several factors including our own experiences and how we’re raised. This makes it very difficult to see a situation and not input our own opinion/biases no matter how objective we try to be.

Keep this in mind when someone is being critical of you. Often they are viewing the situation through their own filter so their reaction is likely to be a reflection of their own experiences and opinions which have no impact on your decisions.

Remind yourself that you are the expert of you

You know yourself best. If you have made a self-care decision, trust that you know this is the best move for you right now and follow your intuition. Others may have opinions, but ultimately you live in your body and mind so you know what you need to do to prioritise your health. The exception to this, of course, is if you reach out for professional support.

Doctors and counsellors can support you in your self-care decision making with your mental health and wellbeing in mind.

Find support where you can

It can be very difficult to receive criticism when you’ve been honest about how you’re feeling, but try not to let it deter you from reaching out. There are some people in this world who won’t understand due to their particular filters, but there will be people who understand.

Look for support groups (we list nationwide groups on our Happiful app), reach out to loved ones you have a good relationship with and professionals who can be there for you. As much as it might feel like it at times, you truly aren’t alone.

Keep your boundaries strong

If you’ve made a decision that’s being criticised but you know it’s best for your mental health, try to maintain your position here. Shut out criticism and unhelpful opinions and focus your attention inwardly so you can give yourself the care you need.

Holding your boundaries can feel difficult, especially when it leads to strong reactions, but it’s the best way to reclaim your power and take charge of your mental health.

If you’re looking for professional support, visit Counselling Directory.

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