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World Kindness Day: Improving Mental Health Through Kindness

Collective compassion can help society reduce stigma.

World Kindness Day is celebrated annually on November 13th. On this day, participants attempt to make the world a better place by celebrating and promoting good deeds and pledging acts of kindness, either as individuals or as organizations. World Kindness Day was first launched in 1998 by The World Kindness Movement, an organization formed at a 1997 Tokyo conference of like-minded kindness organizations from around the world. There are currently over 28 nations involved in The World Kindness Movement, which is not affiliated with any religion or political movement. The mission of the World Kindness Movement and World Kindness Day is to create a kinder world by inspiring individuals and nations towards greater kindness.

Kindness is a behavioral response of compassion and actions that are selfless; or a mindset that places compassion for others before one’s own interests. In performing the selfless act, a person may undercut his or her own selfish interests. Kindness is a value that is often undermined and forgotten because we live in a society where we are rushed, stressed, and spread too thin. Saying hello to our neighbor, offering to bag our own groceries at the store, allowing passengers into our lane on the freeway, volunteering, practicing forgiveness, and offering to help a friend without any underlying motive are all simple acts of kindness that seem to be forgotten within our society. Kindness has been linked directly to internal happiness, yet we spend years striving for happiness and ignoring kindness to then wonder what we're doing wrong.

Mental Health Statistics

According to NAMI, nearly 1 in 4 Americans (62 million persons) are affected by mental illness annually, and 1 in 25 adults in the United States live with a major mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorder or anxiety disorder. Close to 20 percent of teens from 13 to 18 cope with mental illness annually and about 30 percent of adults cope with anxiety disorders. The cost of mental illness is a staggering 193 billion dollars annually in lost earnings, according to NAMI. In fact, mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder represent the third most common cause of hospitalization for both youths and adults aged 18 to 44. Kindness promotes compassion, empathy, closeness, gratitude and a sense of community—which are all qualities needed to help combat mental health disorders. Psychotherapy and medications are also necessary but therapists advocate for positive environments with a strong support system in order to be successful in recovery. Collective compassion is what society needs to break down stigma and improve the lives of people with mental illness and their families.

Kindness and the Brain

Studies have shown that practicing kindness, whether it is in the form of compassion or gratitude, can boost serotonin and dopamine levels in your brain, which are known as the “feel good, happy hormones.” On the contrary, arguments, anger, jealousy, feelings of guilt and other negative emotions over a long period of time can harvest an increase in cortisol which over time can have adverse effects on the body, leading to weakened immune function and weight gain, especially central weight gain. In other words, our positive and negative emotions are closely tied to both mental and physical symptoms.

A smile, holding the door open for another, bringing food to someone, paying for the person in line behind you, connecting with a stranger, and saying "I love you" to someone close are all acts of kindness that can be practiced on a regular basis. So often we hold back from being kind because we don’t know what to do or we don’t think our actions will make an impact, but they do and the research proves this.

  • Call someone you have not spoken with recently. We live in such a busy society that our primary communication has resorted to texts, emails, and social media. Hearing a voice on the other line can strengthen your relationship with that person. This could involve a conversation with a neighbor who lived in an area you moved away from, a childhood friend who you’re primarily “in touch” with only through social media updates, or your grandmother, who lives hours away. It is easier to feel and express emotions through phone conversations and you may share a deeper connection with this person than you would through text or email.
  • Engage in a simple daily gesture to help someone else. Whether it is taking out the trash for your significant other, refilling the coffee at work, running an errand for your parent or completing the grocery shopping for a week, simple acts of kindness can go a long way.
  • Donate your time, money, or skills. Volunteering is a great way to give back to your community and it can also give you a sense of fulfillment. Whether you choose to donate money to an animal shelter, pick up trash at a local beach, or volunteer at a homeless shelter; donating your time, money and skillset can better your community and set an example for others around you.
  • Be kind to yourself. Self-care is an act of kindness that often goes unnoticed. Spend time investing in yourself whether it is reading a book, taking a bath, buying a new outfit, or spending time engaging in your favorite hobby. If you are not fulfilled or happy, then others around you will notice and the negative energy is transferred onto them.
  • Practice forgiveness. We all make mistakes, pick fights, and say hurtful words to others, but we all have the chance to make amends and ask for forgiveness. Asking for forgiveness can be a way to start over, put hurtful feelings behind us, and move on. We also have the power to grant others forgiveness, even if they do not apologize. When we forgive others, we let go of any negative or hostile feelings that we are harboring.