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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Georgiou

Toxic Positivity and Branding: The impact of ignorance around trauma & mental health needs in public

It is great that in modern day society there are increasing opportunities to have discussions around mental health, many of which are being created to offer support, empathy, and kindness. Positivity and gratitude are very important elements to regain perspective over some situations and can, with time help with regulating emotions and feeling empowered.

However, there is a major flaw in reactions from individuals and often businesses to attempt to optimise positive mindsets that are toxic and can damage people’s feeling of self-worth.

Language is so important in understanding trauma that people have been subjected to and allowing people to safely process their experiences and feelings. So, when people are enduring harder days and may not be in a place where they are ready to embrace more positive emotions, why as a society do many public spaces feel the need to use fear based advertising, with toxic positive slogans as a way to keep public mental health in control, in what feels like a desperate attempt to avoid uncertainty and pressure people in public to feel ‘OK’.

I have been triggered recently by some slogans placed on staircases at a local South-Eastern Train Station, no doubt strategically, placed over a bridge walkway. I felt coerced into reading these repeatedly on my journeys, and I found them insincere, making me feel angry and frustrated.

Whilst I would like to think they were created with good intentions, I can’t help but feel the barrage of unsolicited 'advice' are adding to the lack of awareness and knowledge around trauma, completely invalidating and minimising human experience and feelings.

These type of throw away, cliché, slogans are avoidance strategies that do not allow room for growth of self-expression, exploration, or practical support of to what people’s issues are and how they can get help to process these emotionally and practically.

Not all negative feelings are bad and being encouraged to process these safely, is better than telling people to have a more positive mindset. I found the chosen phrases used, could encourage people to feed into a narrative that they are weak or inadequate because they are not fulfilling positive expectations. Or they are not ‘tough’ enough. Implying that pain is just a matter of pushing through if they want to be a flower like other people and that going through dark periods is a choice rather than acknowledging that something has happened to them, is irresponsible.

These are the current phrases on show that have got me riled...

"Before you can see the light, you must deal with the darkness." "The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain"; "Every storm runs out of rain, like every dark night turns into day"; "Every flower must grow through, so fight the pain"; "Don't give up, you've still got a lot of people to prove wrong"; "It's a beautiful day, don't let it get away" and my favourite incredibly insensitive and incorrect "Tough times don't last, tough people do".

When people are feeling disillusioned, anxious, depressed or generally down, systemic knee jerk reactions to optimise positive mindsets or phrases, can delay people accepting sometimes painful, deeply personal, and confusing situations. There is a difference in encouraging people to be mindful with the intention of creating their own positive moments but I feel this is gaslighting people’s trauma or negative experiences. Ignorantly feeding into a narrative of accepting someone’s abuse towards you, judgement, victim and self-blaming, and belief in a just world that delegitimizes individuals’ mental health and wellbeing. They might as well say -Just sort yourself out or Get over it!

If there is a genuine wish within public transport/services to want to support people around their mental health, do your research, take accountability with the way that staff are trained, be mindful of who creates and authorises these types of toxic slogans, become trauma informed in all your practises. Offer practical signposting for professional support. Get advice from professionals, create research with local mental health charities around the best language to use, to sincerely empower and support people. Promote help and guidance-not clichéd, arrogant, half-hearted attempts that genuinely are damaging and may make many people feel worse and even more isolated, often without realising why, due to the complexities around mental health.

What do you think of these ‘positive’ slogans and the impact they make? What changes would people like to see in public spaces like train stations?

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