You might wonder what on earth a pair of mismatched socks has to do with mental health, but the link is rather profound. Socks are, of course, sold in matching pairs, identical and uniform in their twinness with each other. However, people are not like that – we are all different, with a huge variety of features, characteristics and thoughts that make us unique.
Unfortunately, these differences can often cause division, where lack of understanding and empathy causes people to pull apart, driving conflict and hate. This plays out on all levels of society, from nations and world religions finding reason to highlight differences, to the far smaller but no less painful acts of bullying and prejudice that some individuals mete out on those they consider to be ‘other’.
Bullying is the repetitive and intentional harm of one person or group against another where there is a perceived imbalance of power. It can take many forms and can be subtle to all but the individual suffering it. It can be physical, in the form of being beaten up or pushed around, but it can also be verbal and emotional – calling names, teasing, excluding someone from a social group, for example. We can also increasingly see it play out online, with offensive, hateful and abusive comments on social media platforms – also known as trolling.
Remember the saying from school: ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’? That seems like a chant of defiance against physical bullying, but the truth is that words DO hurt, and the effect of them can linger for years.
Bullying can have a severe and negative impact on mental health, leaving individuals feeling isolated, anxious, depressed and lacking self-esteem. It can also lead people to develop harmful coping strategies in an attempt to deal with the effects of being bullied, which may include substance abuse, disordered eating or self-harm. The impact can be felt for long periods after the incidence of bullying – there are adults who report feeling self-conscious about their appearance or anxious about certain situations because of the lasting influence of being bullied at school.
One way that allows people to fight back against bullying is to learn be proud of being different. By embracing your own unique self, you can gain the freedom to be who you really are, find friends who accept you, and grow your self-esteem, resilience, and confidence.
Monday 13th November is Odd Socks Day, which was started by the Anti-Bullying Alliance. They work in partnership with CBeebies and Andy Day to bring a day that celebrates everything that makes us all unique. Wearing odd socks is easy and accessible to almost everyone as a fun opportunity to be creative and express your individuality while showing support for anti-bullying. While predominantly focused on children, the concept applies to anyone and everyone who feels the universal effects of being bullied.
So, for this year’s Odd Socks Day, we want you to celebrate everything that makes you different, that makes you stand out from others. We all have something that we’re proud to call ours, whether it’s a talent, your culture, faith and beliefs, passion for a cause, your taste in music or simply doing your best to make people smile – instead of hiding it away for fear of it being threatened or oppressed, raise it up and tell the world.
Despite our differences, we all really want to feel like we belong, like we’re part of something that chimes with our self-identity - all you need to do is find your tribe, those like-minded people that see the world the way you do. And you can only do that if you recognise and accept everything that makes you who you are. Once you understand your true identity, stand up and be proud of who you are!
If you are being bullied, or you’re worried about somebody who is at risk of being bullied, don’t deal with it alone. Reach out for help – tell family or friends, or your GP. If the individual being bullied is a child, you can try calling Childline: 0800 1111. If the individual concerned is an adult, the National Bullying Helpline can offer practical and emotional support: 0300 323 0169.