How to protect your mental health in the wake of the Sarah Everard trial

How, exactly, are women meant to mentally navigate this world right now? A clinical psychologist shares her advice on how to cope with the news of Sarah Everard’s murder trial

Hollie Richardson
Saturday 02 October 2021 14:29
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She was walking home. She was handcuffed by a police officer on the street. She was raped and murdered. This week we learnt everything that happened in between these key events of 33-year-old Sarah Everard’s murder. The details that emerged during Wayne Couzens’ trial have been horrifying, and the impact statements shared by Everard’s family were heartbreaking.

As we tried to absorb such unimaginable facts, it quickly became clear that Couzens’ whole-life sentence – which he was given on Thursday – would never feel like enough justice. For women everywhere, it was also a sobering reminder that we just can’t feel safe.

After all, Couzens’ sentence came on the same day that Koci Selamaj also appeared in court charged with the murder of Sabina Nessa, 28, a primary school teacher who was killed while walking in a south London park last week. And, over in America, the FBI has a warrant to arrest 22-year-old Gabby Petito’s fiance, Brian Laundrie, following her disappearance in August. This all happened during a week that also saw a Femicide Census study reporting that at least 15 serving or former police have killed women in the UK since 2009.

Despite the rallying calls for change, the protests in the streets, the promises given by people in power, the threat of violence against women is still prevalent. So many of us no longer believe in the very people and systems that we should be able to trust to protect us.

If you’ve found yourself struggling to cope with the news this week, you are not alone. Because, on top of this mistrust, fear, confusion and anger, there’s also the very human fact that hearing of these young women’s deaths is really, really upsetting. How, exactly, are women meant to mentally navigate this world right now?

“Often, when we feel angry or upset about something, we feel helpless and want to do everything we can to get rid of these feelings by ‘doing something’,” Dr Nina Melunsky, a clinical psychologist at The Family Treatment Service tells The Independent. “We can think of practical solutions, like raising awareness of stories like Sarah and Sabina’s, and supporting campaign groups and organisations [such as Sisters Uncut, Reclaim These Streets and Women’s Aid]. However, it can also just be helpful to try to sit with these feelings, and try to understand what they mean for you.

“It can also be hard when we feel that we have very little control over events. In situations like that, it can be helpful to think about what, however small, you do have control of.”

Dr Melunsky warns that the first thing to try and recognise is why this newsfeed is really impacting you. “It is likely that many people will have been impacted in some way, whether it’s sadness and empathy towards the family, or anger about the abuse of the perpetrators’ power,” she says.

“However, for others, this story may connect to things that have happened to them in the past, or particular worries that they already have, and they may find themselves having a more intense response. Both responses are understandable and, once recognised, can be helped.”

Sharing her tips on how to cope with these feelings, Dr Melunksy asks you to think about what usually helps you in times of stress: “This may include reaching out and connecting to friends and family, connecting with nature by going for a walk, or it may be distracting yourself with a book or TV show.”

For anyone who is starting to become overwhelmed by fears and concerns, she advises you to counteract these feelings by remembering positive experiences: “By doing this, we are not excluding or dismissing other worries or concerns – we are providing a more balanced way of thinking.”

Dr Melunsky adds that it’s important to not be left feeling alone and isolated with your thoughts. “By reaching out to others, you may realise that your feelings are shared, or that people are happy to listen and support you,” she explains. “This works in reverse, too: if you have a friend/colleague/family member who you know is struggling with feelings around this story then check in with them and ask them how they are.”

She concludes: “If intense negative feelings persist and you notice that they have started to impact your daily life or you have stopped doing the things that you previously enjoyed, it may be worth talking to your GP or talking to someone professional like a psychologist.”

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