The whispers when you walk through your small town grocery store. The stares as you are quickly led down the aisle of the church. The space given to you in the stands of the high school football game. Two years before I was born, my mother had a serious car accident. She recovered physically, but suffered lasting damage from her head injury – a mental health disorder.
As a child, I saw her become the subject of hushed and often hurtful chatter for her somewhat eccentric behavior. Sometimes my family felt isolated, even more so under the watchful eyes of our neighbors. Although painful, our experience is not uncommon.
Before the pandemic, America experienced increased levels of mental illness. From 2017 to 2018, 19% of adults in the United States reported having one of these conditions, an increase of 1.5 million people. In 2020 alone, people seeking help for anxiety and depression have skyrocketed. Young people in our country were particularly vulnerable, many of them frequently expressing thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
Recently, we saw the damaging impact of mental illness in Tokyo when Simone Biles, the most decorated gymnast of all time, retired from competition after feeling the weight of the world on her shoulders. She immediately received unwavering support and deep criticism. In subsequent interviews, Biles urged for empathy and awareness, reminding critics that Olympians are not just athletes or entertainment. They are human beings with real emotions.
We shouldn’t have to be gold medalists to feel validated in our feelings or our need for support. My mother’s traumatic brain injury permanently changed the course of her life. Instead of receiving healing or grace, she was often viewed by many in our community as “mentally unstable”. She persevered with her challenges, but it wasn’t always easy for me or my sister. Fortunately, I later found an opportunity: to work at a local florist.
Soon I realized how much small gestures can help those struggling with their mental health. Now I see how being there for others – during happy, sad or mundane times – makes a difference. Flowers are temporary, but they have long-term positive effects on our moods. As Rutgers behavioral research shows, flowers lead to happy emotions and feelings of satisfaction in life. Data shows that people experience less depression, anxiety, and agitation after receiving an arrangement. Perhaps more importantly, individuals report increased contact with family, friends, and support systems.
During my more than four decades in the flower industry, I have been fortunate enough to help people celebrate their greatest joys. But I have also been there to offer comfort during their dark and difficult times. This weekend for World Mental Health Day, and every day, I hope people will remember the importance of choosing kindness – whether it’s sending flowers, sharing a smile. or simply to show compassion to others. As the saying goes, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” We could all use a little more, especially as we face the uncertainties of today.
Chris Norwood, AIFD, is the vice president of Tipton & Hurst, the state’s first florist since 1886.