A Candid Look at Mental Health

A blog devoted to intersectional mental health justice.

Author: Kira Rakova (page 1 of 3)

On the Reasons Provided for Mental Health Justice

CN: This post includes gendered insults as used in colloquial understanding of sexual violence. Also some mentalist language in an explanation of colloquial understanding of psychological disorders.

It is not uncommon that the reasons people give others to support are movements for social justice, are meant to appease them. The reasons provided are meant to in some way make the movements personal to the individuals and make it about them. The problem is this is often done at the expense of those marginalized. It is often framed in a way where the marginalized are only deemed important through an extension of the privileged who are being oppressed.

An example of this is a typical argument given to men on why they should care about “women’s issues” such as sexual violence. Men are told that they should not rape women because this could be their daughter, mother, sister, etc.  Men are told to think about how they would feel if it was their mother, daughter, sister, etc, that was sexually assaulted. Admittedly, yes this often gets men to stop in their tracks and think about how sexual violence affects their community. BUT it erases the person-hood of women. Women are no longer to be respected as women or as humans, but instead as an extension of men. The argument becomes “women can’t be raped because they are important in one way or another to men, and possibly to me as a man”. The idea of women as humans needing basic rights is erased. Moreover, it enables men to use degrading tactics to justify their behavior toward women. That is, slut-shaming a woman or calling her a bitch, allows men to remove themselves emotionally from this woman. A woman who is a “slut” or a “bitch” cannot possibly be viewed as a “mother” or “daughter”, therefore it become permissible for a man to violate or degrade her.

In terms of mental health, the same kind of argument is used. We are often asked to care about people with psychological disorders and not use mentalist language because it could be our x,y, or z relation. But this means we can disrespect those who we cannot see in that position. For example, this argument often does not encompass someone who is homeless and schizophrenic. If one does not have experiences with homelessness, then the homeless man on the subway going through a psychosis episode becomes “undeserving” of empathy. Such individuals are then subject to degradation and discrimination. It becomes “okay” because after all, they can never be like “us” or one of “our relations”, right?

So what needs to happen in terms of mental health justice, as well as any social justice really, is the acceptance and inclusion of individuals on the basis of existence. A person with a mental health issue or psychological disorder needs to be affirmed, respected, included, understood, and listened to because they are. 

On “Work Ethic”, Universities, and Mental Health

It seems that many people believe strongly in the idea of work ethic. Many people believe that many problems can be worked through.  This is especially true when it comes to work and of course in universities. It is believed that students who do poorly in classes are simply “not applying themselves” or are “lazy” (of course sometimes they are simply deemed unintelligent or incompetent in the field). And sure sometimes students do not apply themselves. Sometimes students have little interest in the class or are missing foundational information. But the problem is that it is not too often that students are asked why they are not performing well.

There are a variety of reasons students may  not perform well in school, aside from the undefined “work ethic”. Student may be working two jobs and going to school. Students may be parents and have to prioritize their children over homework. Students may have gone to underfunded and under-resourced schools, which puts them at a disadvantage as compared to their peers that attended schools in wealthy neighborhoods. Students may be immigrants and be struggling with reading academic texts in a language foreign to them. And students may in fact be living with mental health issues.

Imagine for a minute that you are an individual living with depression. You are constantly unmotivated, tired, and sad. You have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. You cry unexpectedly. You feel hopeless in many instances.  But you really want to do well in your classes. You do your best to power through and study. There are instances when you are barely awake but you write your papers anyways. It takes you 5 times the effort it does for someone without psychological disorders, but you show up to class.

Now imagine being told that you have “poor work ethic” and that you should “apply yourself more”. You are struggling everyday and really truly trying to do your best. Yet people look down on you and write you off because your grades don’t “show” it.

What if mental health and psychological disorders were not stigmatized? What if work ethic was not based on productivity relative to mentalist and ableist standards but instead took into account different experiences? What if success in academia/universities was measured not only by the amount of work produced but the content of the work produced with positive recognition of the experiences and realities of the individual?

 

 

Faculty and Mental Health

Something I have not written about yet is the role of faculty in a university setting  in regards to mental health. Of course faculty should be allowed to receive services within the local community, and should be protected in terms of mental health/psychological disorders.  The same rights that any person should have (including those living with psychological disorders) should be extended faculty.

However,  professors and other faculty members have extra responsibility placed on them in regards to students because they most often are the ones who interact with students on a regular basis. Thus, I suggest (at the minimum) that the following four things for professors:

1. Be knowledgeable about the services available on campus and off campus (within the same neighborhood/community). This includes not only formal counseling services but also any peer run programs or community healing services. It might take some research or some reaching out, but knowing this information will ensure that you and your students are safe and have safe spaces to be a part of.

2. Believe your students when it comes to mental health. If someone opens up to you regarding having a psychological disorder, believe them. If someone tells you about trauma, believe them. If someone identifies themselves as a survivor, believe them.  This is extremely important, because they may not have other spaces where they are accepted in this way.  This is extremely important because it takes a lot of courage to overcome stigma, victim blaming culture, and one’s own emotions to reach out. Shutting someone down in this situations can be re-traumatizing, triggering, isolating, alienating, etc.

3. Put your students health before their grades. That is, if a student reaches out to you for an extension or extra help due to a mental health issue, give it to them. Of course you have your own capacities, but putting faith in your students to do well and acknowledging that having a good support system will only benefit everyone in the future. Imagine how many less students would drop out if they had support and accommodations when it came to things like trauma or depression.

4. Watch your language. Do not use mentalist language. Do not try to compare experiences. Be accountable for trigger warnings. Do not demean mental health issues. Acknowledge when individuals are triggered and consider how lesson plans can be changed if this happens.

Mental Health and Counseling Requirements

In terms of policy, something that has recently been on my mind is the requirements that universities must meet in terms of counseling. So I reviewed a few accreditation agencies to see what their requirements are.  A few interesting tidbits I picked out:

1. According to the International Association of Counseling Services,”‘Every effort should be made to maintain minimum staffing ratios in the range of one F.T.E. professional staff member (excluding trainees) to every 1,000 to 1,500 students, depending on services offered and other campus mental health agencies”. This ratio is aspirational by nature, encouraging counseling centers to approximate the range in order to ensure that there are an adequate number of professional staff members to meet the clinical needs of the students, as well as the other service needs of the campus community.”

2. Under the Council of Advancement for Higher Education, “[Counseling Services] must  advocate for greater sensitivity to multicultural and social justice concerns by the institution and its personnel  modify or remove policies, practices, facilities, structures, systems, and technologies that limit access, discriminate, or produce inequities  include diversity, equity, and access initiatives within their strategic plans  foster communication that deepens understanding of identity, culture, selfexpression, and heritage”

3. According to NY State Law, ” the setting shall not be a private practice owned or operated by the applicant”

 

So essentially laws and recommendations related to mental health services are that they must not be profit driven, must be intersectional/inclusive, and should be proportional to the student body and its needs.  Perhaps then, mental health services should be assessed by these specific types criteria in a very transparent and publicly available way.  Ideally, I think students should assess the center based on their inclusivity/intersectionality.  Local, outside organizations should also be included in evaluating the types of services available vs. what is needed in the community; they can then provide administration or the counselors with relevant training in terms of the needs of the community. That way, the voices of students are heard and the strive for better mental health services becomes communal.

 

Sleep and Mental Health

Recently I have been thinking about the correlation of various psychological disorders and sleep.  Depression often causes individuals to sleep more than the average person. Anxiety prevents individuals from sleeping. Bipolar disorder causes both lack and excess of sleep depending the stage they are in (meaning manic or depressive).

After some research, I learned that in fact 50 to 80% of  individuals living with psychological are also affected by sleep disorders.  And  there is scientific proof that lack of sleep may in fact influence the likelihood of a psychological disorder. Which in turn got me thinking about how this lack of sleep affects those already disproportionately affected by lack of sleep.

That is how does it affect working class individuals who have to work multiple jobs? What happens to single mothers who are trying to support their children and go to school? How are individuals who are homeless affected?  But perhaps the biggest question of all is why is sleep not valued enough in society if it is so tied to mental health?

Mental Health in the News

One thing that has recently been in the news (in relation to mental health) is Andreas Lubitz, who was the German pilot who crashed an airline. As in most situations, this kind of coverage (whether intentionally or not) continues to stigmatize mental health because it forces society to think of mental health and psychological disorders only in context of fear. That is, mental health rarely gets coverage in a positive or constructive manner, it usually is only covered in relation to fear and violence. There is also rarely a call for mental health to be prioritized more and often a subtle (or not so much for) victim-blaming vibe to coverage.

So I decided to read a couple of the articles on the issue and see some idea that were re-occurring.
Here two things I picked out:

1. Lubitz as “killer” – there seems to be a tendency to refer to Lubitz as killer. Although the notion is of course understandable, especially given the amount of lives that were lost, it still re-asserts the dominant conversation that exists surrounding psychological disorders. That is he is sketched out as ‘evil’ (or any variation of the term) without qualifying him as having a disorder.

2. Lubitz hiding his illness/Lubitz ‘slipping through’- many articles are very insistent about claiming how Lubitz purposely tried to hide his illness from his workers (or about how the system ‘somehow’ let him through). This assumes a few things. For one, it assumes that we live in a world without mental health stigma and that he could have easily made it known to his employers that he was living with depression. There is no question as to why he seemed to feel the need to hide it. The flip-side argument assumes that individuals with psychological disorders are all non-functioning. It almost seems as if they claim that anyone who is living depression should not be allowed to work. Of course safety in general is always an issue but the way the arguments are constructed are reductionist and marginalizing of those living with depression.

On Homelessness and Mental Health

Homelessness is often associated with mental health. There exists stereotype of the ‘crazy’ homeless individual. Many people seem to fear and avoid individuals who are homeless because of this particular stereotype.

Of course many individuals who are homeless do live with mental illnesses, with 20 to 25% living with severe mental illnesses. However, we need to look critically at the intersection of mental health.

How do the physically harsh conditions some individual who are homeless live in, combined with mental health, put them at greater risk?

How can mental health issues lead to homelessness?

How can the improvement of mental health resources help minimize the risk of homelessness?

I truly believe that in having a deeper understanding on the intersection between homelessness and mental health, we can both reduce the risk of homelessness and advocate for mental health destigmatization.

On Environment Justice and Mental Health

All fights for justice and the end of oppression interrelate in certain ways, both symbolically and in reality.  For example, the fight against class discrimination and the fight against racism are interrelated both through historical origins and present systematic similarities and intersections. The oppression of women is historically tied to the exploitation of nature.

Similarly environmental exploitation and fight for justice intersects with mentalism and mental health justice.

For one, the exploitation of nature leads to our alienation of it which can have negative effects on our mental health. One way to describe it is through the term nature deficit disorder, which is the concept that certain behavior disorders in children are linked to their lack of interaction with nature. Yet it applies to mental health on a larger scale.

Perhaps what it really comes down to when it comes to nature and mental health is our ability to use it for therapeutic purposes. One study found that nature walks help individuals manage depression. Animal assisted therapy has shown to be helpful for individuals living with schizophrenia. Gardening has been shown to help individuals living with dementia in terms of attention restoration.

There is of course much more to say on the way the two intersect but my point is, it is one avenue of mental health justice that does need more attention.

 

On Mental Health and Gender

In this post I would like to explore the topic of gender as it pertains to mental health. More specifically the topic of misgendering and self-determination of gender and the effects it has on mental health. In advance this is a trigger warning in regards to misgendering.

Often the debate surrounding using “they”,”zey” or other non-gender binary pronouns, as well as using “he” or “she” for individuals who are trans, is about feelings. To some degree this debate is valid when it pertains to the feelings of the individual being misgendered. However, sadly, the debate tends to focus on the feelings of the person purposely seeking to misgender the individual. The conversation always seems to revert to how the cis-gendered individual ‘feels’ about the topic of gender pronouns.

Yet what if for the moment we talk about mental health rather than feelings (although the two are of course connected). Being misgendered can have a tremendous impact on the mental health of an individual. It can trigger feelings of depression, anxiety, suicide, eating disorders, PTSD, dissociation disorder, etc.

So then are one’s ‘feelings’ toward gender pronouns really more important than the psychological impact that misgendering can impart on individuals? Are your politics more important than the agency, self determination, and health of other individuals? Is choosing to misgender someone worth more than basic human regard?

On Mental Health and Minimum Wage

In talking about minimum wage and arguing for or against raising it, mental health is rarely a topic that is addressed. Mental health and the ability to have resources that support mental health are not woven into the dialogue. There is some reference to the impact that working class jobs have on the psyche of workers in certain works such as that of Barbara Ehrenreich, where she describes the humiliating and manipulating tactics that businesses use in hiring workers. But in the overall discourse, mental health is erased.

Here are some points of thought I would like to include on the topic of minimum wage and mental health:

1. What happens when your insurance (assuming that you are even able to afford one) does not provide for mental health services and you are unable to afford to pay out of pocket?

2. What happens when the doctors or resources you can access are so severely limited that you are never sure whether or not your next visit will be covered?

3. What happens when the hours that most centers and psychologists coincide with the 50+ hours you work to pay rent, food and other basic necessities? When missing work to get mental health services means being unable to pay rent?

4. What happens when the stress of having to literally survive on minimum wage combines with psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder?

5.  What happens when you go to school, work a minimum wage job and are turned away from the school’s psychological center because you have insurance and that means that you can access services ‘elsewhere’?

Mental health is so low on our society’s priority list that most of these questions are never addressed.  Yet aside from the stigma and discrimination that the erasure of this topic perpetuates, it is also dehumanizing. By not caring about the mental and emotional well-being of individuals and reducing them to a question of whether or not they are able to ‘survive’ on minimum wage, we are dehumanizing individuals.

 

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