Hi, Zedkat (@stfumisogynists) from The Fementalists here! I’m an intersectional feminist and full-time mentalist. I also write at my own blog (occasionally), which can be found here. As I discovered when I was writing this, this week’s unofficial theme is the impact of marginalisation on mental health. Hope you find it interesting! And thanks for having me.
[Content note/trigger warning: self-harm, suicidal ideation, vomiting, racism, violence against women. The content beyond the links here may be triggering.]
First up in our blog round-up is you should see my scars,talking frankly about the reality of reactions to self-harm in hospital.
I am asked humiliating question. Have I poisoned myself or hurt myself? How is my mood? Do I need them to call a carer?
I am no longer me. My symptoms are not simply diagnosed and treated. First they must discover if I am just crazy. All the while, I am suffering. The conversation is repeated with each new dr and nurse. Sometimes the cleaners and auxiliaries give their opinions too.
Mostly they branch into two camps. Firstly, the people who pity me. Who think I am some pathetic little girl. They pet me and treat me like a 5yr old. They offer platitudes & some frankly stupid advice. They are desperate to call someone to be responsible for me. They do a lot of touching & exclaiming. They can’t conceive that I am a strong, intelligent adult who is capable of looking after herself. So, they reduce everything I am into a sad little bundle & expect me to be grateful for their characterisation.
Now, we come to the haters. They think I am a waste of their time. I am stupid, self-indulgent, and stubborn. They grudge treating me, they especially dislike administering pain relief. Obviously if I have self-harmed, I must also be a drug seeker. I’ve waited in A&E for hours with pancreatitis with nothing more than paracetamol because some dr objected to me having a history of mental illness. This group can’t separate the psychological from the physical. One must always be in some way linked to other. I have caused this.
Clearly there is a still a long way to go in how people who self-harm are treated by hospital staff.
I wanted to write a letter to my 14 year old self to say all the things I wish someone had said to me back then:
Dear 14 year old me,
I wanted to write this letter to you as I can see you are struggling. You are preoccupied with thoughts so distressing it physically makes you flinch and a belief you can’t tell anybody as you worry that they may think you are truly evil (it is making you believe it of yourself). You are not eating because the anxiety is making you physically sick and life has gone from being technicolour to a dull grey – a shuffling existence through each day. If only you could hear me say “share your load, voice the thoughts, nothing terrible will happen if you do and only then will the darkness start to fade”…
I can see you now wondering if the only way to escape the feeling that you are slowly being suffocated by your mind is to leave this world behind. Well what I am here to tell you is you will be glad you stayed. You will go onto university, fall in love, travel, laugh and have adventures so great it will make life seem light again…
I’ve toyed with the idea of writing to my younger self myself, so this makes an interesting read – I may well try it this week!
At Crazy in the Coconut Bourbon writes about struggling in the heat,
Honestly – I’d love to just be able to go with the flow and enjoy the sun whilst it is here and try to absorb as much of it as possible to help me get through those winter months – but it is just not that easy. Not when you have the emetophobia gremlin on your back 24/7; not when you can’t eat/drink/sleep/move for fear of setting yourself off.
I think CBT has helped me accept having anxiety and depression and the fact that recovery is a continual process and that there isn’t an end point. I’ve always had anxiety, I’m convinced it’s a part of my personality and therefore I’ll always have it. Initially, this may strike you as defeatist and pessimistic, however for me, it’s a positive thing. I’ve wasted endless hours wishing I could be ‘normal’ wishing that I would just snap out of anxiety and depression. I’ve resented the fact that I have them. That isn’t healthy and probably feeds them. However, I’ve realised, that by not fighting them, by not trying to ‘get better’ it means they’ve lessened their grip on me. I have more control. I ignored the symptoms of depression for a good two years and as a result it made me incredibly ill. I’ve realised by accepting the fact depression & anxiety are always in the background it’s probably a good thing. It means I can be aware of possible triggers and just to take good care of myself basically. I suppose this is all part of the steep learning curve that is mental illness.
So for me, I’d say that CBT has certainly helped, it hasn’t got rid of my mental illnesses but it’s definitely given me a different perspective.
Hovering in the background were the massive implications of beginning to think of mental health and wellbeing not as an individual matter but one where it is possible to take action upon its social determinants… Across the day, speakers addressed the mental wellbeing and mental health needs and life situations of a variety of groups of people. These included carers, those with drug and alcohol issues, specific groups within otherwise marginalised groups, lesbian, gay and bisexual people, trans people and older people…
The effect of prejudice and discrimination of the mental health and wellbeing was also raised by a number of speakers. A number claimed that the stress and other situations that result from outright discriminatory practice and the experience of being labelled other or deviant significantly impacts upon the resilience and wellbeing of individuals and communities. Chris Whiteley suggested in answer to a comment from the floor that discrimination can be a kind of trauma. This may seem like an obvious point, but it points toward one of the prime challenges of public health approaches to mental health and wellbeing.
Mark goes on to highlight the emphasis that was given to mental health in the trans* community, which certainly marks a positive direction.
Bailey outlined many of the findings of the Scottish Trans Mental Health Study 2012, focusing on the ways in which health services are constructed influences the outcomes for trans people. 88% of trans people told the survey they’d felt depressed, 53% had self harmed and 84% considered suicide. Trans people often wrestle with being trans for many years before seeking help and support… Trans people are required to live ‘in role’, which means working, volunteering, studying or training in the gender role they are transitioning to for two years before they are offered access to hormones and surgery, something that Bailey said leaves them open to hate crime as this policy increases their visibility as trans while offering no ways to minimise the response of others to their trans status. There are, Bailey pointed out, a lot of low income and unemployed trans people.
Mark’s report is a long one, but it’s very much worth a read – these were only the selected highlights, but I wanted to paste the whole thing here! Would strongly recommend people go have a read of the whole thing. The issue of marginalisation and its impact on mental health is a key, as are shifts in thinking about mental health away from as an individualised matter, so hopefully this marks a positive step forward.
BBC News this week carried a report about inequalities in psychiatric treatment in Scotland based on ethnic identity. “The study, the first of its kind in Scotland, looked at hospital admissions for psychiatric disorders, mood disorders such as depression and psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia between 2001 and 2008.”
In most minority groups, people who went to hospital were shown to be significantly more likely to be treated under the mental health act.
Difficulties in diagnosing and treating mental illness among minority groups at an early stage could help explain the findings, the researchers said.
A lack of awareness of the support services available and a reluctance to seek medical help due to social stigma in minority groups may also have contributed, they added…
Dr Narinder Bansal, of the university’s Centre for Population Health Sciences, said: “Studying ethnic variations in psychiatric hospital admission enables us to identify and monitor inequalities in mental health care.
“We hope that this study will inform politicians and doctors’ decisions about how treatment is best delivered and planned for, to ensure equal access to early care.
“It is vital that mental health services meet the needs of Scotland’s culturally diverse population.”
This week also saw the disgusting acquittal of George Zimmerman, who murdered unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in cold blood. Over at 21st Century Scholar, Constance Iloh poignantly reflects on the verdict and processing the collective and individual trauma of racism.
That overwhelming mixture of anger, sadness, and hurt returned this past Saturday with the verdict that George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin…
I am writing to acknowledge that I am first grieving the loss of a young man whose life was tragically cut short. I am also asserting that racism can in fact be traumatic.
And while I am acknowledging its presence, this pain does not have to paralyze me. I know something powerful is on the other side of it.
This assertion about the trauma of racism is backed up by a study reported on by the American Psychological Association which found that,
Black Americans’ psychological responses to racism are very similar to common responses to trauma, such as somatization, which is psychological distress expressed as physical pain; interpersonal sensitivity; and anxiety, according to the study. Individuals who said they experienced more and very stressful racism were more likely to report mental distress, the authors said… “The relationship between perceived racism and self-reported depression and anxiety is quite robust, providing a reminder that experiences of racism may play an important role in the health disparities phenomenon,” Pieterse said.
Another article from May this year suggests “many minorities experience lasting, cumulative effects of racism that could lead to the development of PTSD.” Again, the link between marginalisation and mental health is raised.
Over at Education Week, the Living in Dialogue blog also reflects on collective trauma in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, with an emphasis on the role of educators in working with traumatised youth.
The murder of Trayvon Martin was traumatic – especially for young people who identify with Trayvon. President Obama identified with Martin’s family, saying “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
We look to our judicial system for justice for Trayvon, but as with the Oscar Grant case and others, justice is scarce. The underlying message to our youth is one of intimidation and insecurity. They do not feel as if they belong, even in the neighbourhoods in which they live.
In other mental health news this week, the Independent reports on a study by the Knowledge Economy campaign, conducted by the University and College Union, looking at young people aged 16 to 24 who were not in education or working (NEET). The study found that 33% said they had suffered from depression and 15% claimed to have a mental health condition. This suggests a correlation between the development of mental ill-health and social isolation, with two-fifths (40%) also saying “they did not feel they were part of society.”
Simon Renton, UCU president said the report lays bare “the deep personal impact that sustained unemployment has on young people”.
“It is truly heartbreaking to see so many people who want to contribute more to society but are left feeling their outlook is desperate and hopeless.”
Also at the Independent, a short article documents reports from Mind that calls to their helpline have doubled in the last year. “Overall, the number of calls rose to more than 68,000, from 46,000 in 2011-12.” There has also been an increase in “callers…presenting “acute and complex” problems stemming from severe financial worries”, showing that the NEETs in the UCU report are far from the only ones suffering the impact of the economic situation and, again, suggesting a strong correlation between economic/social and mental distress.
Over at News Medical, they announced the release of a new book Violence against Women and Mental Health looking at the link between violence against women and mental health.
‘Violence against women needs to be acknowledged as the global emergency that it is, requiring universal access to emergency and basic services, including psychological support,’ said Michelle Bachelet, United Nations (UN) Women’s Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, in her foreword to the book.
Violence against women and girls includes domestic violence, sexual abuse and trafficking, violence in humanitarian crisis settings, so-called honor killings, harassment in the workplace, forced marriage and genital mutilation. According to analysis of surveys from 86 countries, cited by Bachelet, between 9 and 76% of women report having experienced physical and/or sexual violence.
The mental sequelae of abused women can range from posttraumatic stress syndrome, anxiety and depression to substance abuse, dissociative disorder and suicide. But often, it is the women themselves who are blamed, and the culture that makes such violence acceptable is deeply ingrained. To date, psychiatry and psychotherapy have widely neglected violence as an influencing factor on mental health.
At The Fementalists, we’ve had a long-term interest in the impact of gender-based violence on mental health, so we’re looking forward to giving this a read!
At Time, Daniel Freeman, a Professor of Clinical Psychology at Oxford University, and Jason Freeman, his brother, the co-authors of The Stressed Sex: Uncovering the Truth about Men, Women, and Mental Health, perhaps controversially, explore the role of gender in the development of mental ill-health.
No one, of course, wants to be accused of sexism. This might partly explain why today mainstream mental health professionals, psychologists, and psychiatrists give surprisingly little attention to the question of gender differences…
It turns out that in any given year total rates of psychological disorder are 20-40% higher in women than men…For example, the National Comorbidity Survey Replication – a large, representative sample of the general US population – found that 9% of women and 5% of men had experienced depression in the previous twelve months, with a staggering 23% of women suffering from an anxiety disorder as compared to 14% of men…
Some would say that men experience just as much mental illness as women: they just don’t admit it. But the scientific evidence to back up such an assertion simply isn’t there…
What we do know is that social stresses make people vulnerable to mental illness, and research indicates that women’s roles may be especially demanding. Considering that on the whole women are paid less, find it harder to advance in a career, have to juggle multiple roles, and are bombarded with images of apparent female “perfection”, it would be amazing if there wasn’t some emotional cost. Women are also, of course, much more likely to have experienced childhood sexual abuse, a trauma that all too often results in lasting psychological damage…
So let’s have the awkward discussions. Let’s prioritize research into the causes of mental illness and specifically the role that gender may play. And let’s end the discrimination, inequality, and downright misogyny that seem to be triggering profound psychological distress in so many women.
Again, we look forward to reading about this controversial position in more detail.
In York, almost 14 people in every hundred have depression each year, significantly worse than the England average of below 12 in each hundred. York also has significantly more hospital admissions for mental illness per head of population than the England average. The York Press should support the many York people who experience mental illnesses, not publish poorly informed letters mocking a group of people who are protected by Equalities legislation.
Finally, over at BBC3, their mental health season continues with Diaries of a Broken Mind, in which 25 young people filmed themselves talking about their mental health conditions in their own words. If you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend it as it’s a great documentary. I particularly liked that the participants were put in control of what was and wasn’t filmed (as they were filming themselves), which avoided some of the consent issues that I had with Don’t Call Me Crazy, another programme in the BBC3 season. Over at the Time to Change blog they have three entries about the programme, all three from participants. Harriet writes of her initial worry about the title of the programme, which gave her some cause for concern – “My mind isn’t ‘broken’!”. She continues:
When I tuned in last night with apprehension, I expected to see dramatised, disturbing, and extreme images that were simply feeding public desire for a popcorn-inducing freak show. I was wrong. Whilst they didn’t shy away from the harsh reality of mental illness, I was so impressed that they didn’t include anything too triggering or damaging. They showed the highs, the lows, and most importantly, they were showing young people as young people, not as patients or diagnoses.
Even at their ‘worst’, each character was so beautiful, articulate, lovely and intelligent. I’m proud to have been involved in something alongside such inspirational people.
I wanted to show people that it’s OK to talk about mental health, and by participating in the documentary I felt like I was able to do that on a broader scale than I currently do. It’s important that people can talk out about how they feel, and if more people do that, then stigma which surrounds mental health can be reduced and hopefully eradicated over time.
Time for the Wildcard! This week, Buzzfeed covers the ‘Corgi Nation’ beach party, with cute corgi pictures in abundance – ‘This Is What Happens When 318 Corgis Throw A Beach Party’…
Thank you for having me, hope you’ve found our takeover interesting! – Z