Diversity and Acceptance
We can't talk about self-care, mindfulness and mental health without talking about diversity. Everyone is different and has different needs. Often, though, our comfort with different things is moderated by our culture, our neurotype, our social status, or our past experiences. Bias. It's a four letter word that carries a lot of weight. I didn't think I had any until I looked more deeply at what it really is.
Implicit bias is unconscious and influences our actions, words, and decisions without us even knowing it. We all have bias that is formed by our early experiences and developed with each following experience. Sometimes we are more aware of it than others, but until we acknowledge that it exists, we cannot become better humans.
Developing mindfulness and emotional intelligence is one way to be more aware of hidden bias and allow yourself to pause before reacting in any situation - giving your mind the time to observe the situation and emotional responses prior to responding. This is essential for nurses - and nursing students.
The next step is to listen.
Another way to become aware of implicit bias is to listen to what others are saying. Active listening to people from different backgrounds and with different experiences - and listen without defensiveness.
Openly listen to people with a different perspective and a different experience. Not to try to correct or change what they experience. Instead, listen without judgment, critique or excusing the actions or behavior of others. Just listen to understand.
Levar Burton has a podcast "Levar Burton reads" in which he reads short stories, but also has a dialogue and shares about his experiences as a black boy in America, growing up without a father, and sometimes his struggles with Bipolar Disorder.
Amanda Seales (podcast to the right) is an American comedian who shares about her experience as a black woman in America through her podcast and really digs into different topics related to diversity and equity and has candid conversations with others on the same topics.
**warning, language may not be appropriate for young children**
Mental health encompasses all of a person - physical, emotional, and psychological. Our gender identity is a part of that. Gender dysphoria creates an unease because of the mismatch between the anatomical sex one is born with and their gender identity. Several studies have documented the increased risk of mental illness and suicide within this population.
I found the Genderbread Person to be a helpful resource to learn the differences between anatomical sex, gender identity, gender expression, and attraction.
Do you struggle with understanding terminology around gender and sexuality? I did, and the below glossary I found to be informative, I hope you do too!
Neurodiversity is a less commonly discussed topic but an important one to understand - for yourself and your patients. Those who are neurodivergent (ADHD, ADD, autism, bipolar disorder, OCD, sensory processing disorders, anxiety disorders, etc.) may not appear to be disabled but may have significant struggles that are not as easily identified - which makes finding and providing accommodations harder.
Often, those who are neurodiverse feel like something is horribly wrong with them and that they have to adapt like a chameleon to their environment in order to "be okay" - but that adaptation comes at a huge cost for the person. As someone who has recently been diagnosed with autism, I've been able to look back and identify many situations where I've adapted to my environment or the expectations of those around me - or what I thought their expectations were - and created more strife internally.
Commonly you hear "not all disabilities are visible" but I'd venture to say most disabilities aren't visible unless you're looking for them. As nurses, we need to be looking for clues for every patient we interact with and what we can do to best support and engage with them. Understanding that each person is unique in their strengths and challenges will go a long way in supporting individuals where they need it (whether it's coworkers, patients, students, or family members)..
Annie Kotowicz is an autistic woman diagnosed late in life. Annie has a blog about her experiences - https://neurobeautiful.com/ and is author of the book What I Mean When I Say I'm Autistic. Her book is short, easy to read, and shares in tangible ways some common internal struggles with being neurodiverse, what that feels like and how it looks. She uses her recent realizations to explain autism from an inside perspective.
It is more important than ever to accept one another with an open mind that acknowledges that unique perspective of each individual that comes from a different set of life experiences that make up the person they are.