Friday, May 4th ~8-9:30 pm ESTJoin by computer: https://zoom.us/j/119362879
Join by phone: +1 669 900 6833 or +1 646 558 8656
Enter Meeting ID: 119 362 879
International callers: https://zoom.us/u/jkwt3wHh
Devalued identities cause "Mental Illness"
As a general rule, those of us with socially devalued identities are far more likely to be diagnosed as having both common and severe mental health problems in proportion to our numbers. Harm from devalued identities affects not only our ‘minority’ concerns like ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, disability or being defined as ‘mentally ill’, but also our large group memberships as women, children, seniors, 'working-class' or 'poor'.
As a practical matter, our membership in any devalued group exposes us to a greater degree of discrimination and threat. This, in turn, increases the likelihood of our experiencing even more relational and social adversities, along with physical health problems. If we have multiple marginalized identities (e.g. black and disabled; female and poor; gay and ‘mentally ill’), our odds of experiencing adversity and its attendant ill effects increase exponentially. This is confirmed by the evidence about class, ‘race’ and gender gradients in mental health, criminal justice and other welfare systems.
Accordingly, those of us with marginalized identities, all too often, experience subordination, exclusion and oppression. These may take the form of chronic background threats - living in deprived and unsafe environments, frequent reminders of the potential for violence or aggression toward ‘people like us’, and discrimination in pay and employment, education, housing, transportation, healthcare…. There may be repeated encounters with negative stereotypes, hostility, harassment and ‘micro-aggressions’ – those multiple, brief daily interactions that subtly denigrate us in relation to our group membership.
Even harder to detect are the socially acceptable, culturally desirable practices that ensure that ‘people like us’ are continually monitored and contained. God forbid that, in being ourselves, the cultural pollution we represent should intrude upon the manicured image that the dominant culture wishes to maintain of itself. A ready example is the way that those of us with 'mental illness' are repeatedly reminded to take our meds, call our doctors or attend to our 'self-care' when we express normal human responses to a difficult day. Long way of saying, that those of us in marginalized groups are often told what is and is not ok to believe about ourselves (you can believe you are ill, but not that your anger or high ideals are justified) and how the reality of our lives may and may not permissibly be defined (you can believe that you have a broken brain, not that your voices are real).
This is how the power of the dominant culture operates in the lives of those of us whose identities are devalued.
Suffice it to say, none of this feels very good. In fact, most of us find it highly uncomfortable (threatening) to live with. We frequently find it necessary to devote a lot of attention and energy to the following:
- Regulating overwhelming feelings
- Protecting ourselves from physical danger
- Maintaining identity, self-image and self-esteem
- Preserving a place within the social group
- Protecting against attachment loss, hurt and abandonment
The ‘symptoms’ of ‘mental illness’ (e.g., vigilance, defensiveness, avoidance, denial, stress, overwhelm, reactivity, breakdown) and its attendant labels are only a short step from here.
These important points - and countless others - are outlined in the Power Threat Meaning Framework (PTM) introduced by the British Psychological Society in February 2018. Power Threat Meaning Framework Overview, pages 47-52, https://www1.bps.org.uk/system/files/user-files/Division%20of%20Clinical%20Psychology/public/INF299%20PTM%20overview%20web.pdf
The framework highlights the links between wider social factors - like poverty, discrimination, abuse and violence and distressed or distressing emotional and behavioral responses. It describes the diverse strategies that human beings use to cope with overwhelming emotions in order to survive and protect themselves and meet their core needs. Introducing the Power Threat Meaning Framework, https://www.bps.org.uk/news-and-policy/introducing-power-threat-meaning-framework
Equally important is the solution proposed by the Power Threat Meaning Framework Unlike most mental health approaches, PTM argues that meaning and distress must be understood and addressed at social, community and cultural levels, not just individual ones. It joins the United Nations in recommending that a shift of focus towards 'power imbalance' rather than 'chemical imbalance' in mental health awareness and practice. In a word, 'the less access you have to conventional or approved forms of power, the more likely you are to adopt socially disturbing or disruptive strategies in the face of adversity.' PTM Launch Slideshow, slide 28, https://www1.bps.org.uk/system/files/user-files/Division%20of%20Clinical%20Psychology/public/PTM%20COMPOSITE%20VERSION%2025.1.18.pdf
Better yet, the framework is non-pathologizing and suggests a unifying, overarching model of human psychosocial functioning that applies to all of human beings, including those without mental health labels. Also encouraging: the approach recognizes that power operates positively (not just negatively!). It therefore encourages both personal agency and social action to create meaningful personal and societal outcomes.
The workshop tonight will offer a facilitated discussion on the relationship between devalued identities and 'mental illness.' The discussion will focus on 6 core questions adapted from the PTM model:
- ‘What has happened to you?’ (In what ways have devalued identities led to you being over-powered, under-powered, dis-empowered ...?)
- ‘How did this affect you?’ (What threats has this posed to your needs and survival?)
- ‘What sense can you make of it?’ (What did these situations and experiences mean for you?)
- ‘What did you have to do to survive?’ (What strategies did you use to respond to threats or create meaning from adversity?)
- ‘What values, strengths and resources have you been able to access? (Or might you try to access?)
- ‘What is your story?’ (How does all this fit together?)
The Power Threat Meaning Framework: Guided Discussion,
For more info:
- Email Sarah at: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Visit our conversation on Facebook at the Wellness and Recovery Human Rights Campaign, facebook.com/groups/WellnessRecoveryRights/