Friday, May 4, 2018

Devalued Identities and "Mental Illness" - ONLINE WORKSHOP: Fri. May 4 ~ 8-9:30 PM EST

A Flyer with a Schedule of Events is attached.  It reads:   POWER, THREAT MEANING MONTH     ANATOMY OF A BREAKDOWN (graphic)  1. Life is hard all by it self 2. Basic needs are insecure 3. Bias and prejudice shut us out 4. Trusted institutions let us down 5. Social responses make it worse 6. Injuries add up 7. BREAK DOWN   MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS:  LACK OF POWER AFFECTS US   Body power – society values preferences, attributes and abilities that you don’t have or identify with  Coercive power – you are subjected to violence, aggression, threats  Legal power – systemic rules or sanctions limit your choices  Economic power – you can’t afford needed goods, services, activities or opportunities on a par with others  Interpersonal power – you can’t meet basic relational needs for intimacy, care and human protection  Social/cultural power – limited access to knowledge, connections and qualifications that make life easier  Ideological power – values, language and meaning  are defined by powerful others   MAY 2018 SCHEDULE   Wednesday, May 2nd ~8-9:30 pm EST                                     Power, Threat and the Meaning of “Mental Illness”  Friday,  May 4th ~8-9:30 pm EST                                         Devalued Identities and "Mental Illness"  Saturday, May 5th ~2-5 pm EST:  Mini-Retreat                   Power, Threat and Unconventional Realities  Wednesday, May 9th ~8-9:30 pm EST                                                         Surviving Rejection and Invalidation  Friday, May 11th ~8-9:30pm EST                                      Surviving Childhood Adversity  Saturday, May 12th ~2pm - 5pm EST:  Mini-Retreat                            Power, Threat and the Meanings of “Mothering”  Wednesday, May 16th ~8-9:30pm EST                                          Surviving Disrupted Identities and Roles  Friday, May 18th ~8-9:30pm EST                                 Surviving Setbacks and Defeat  Saturday, May 19 ~2-5pm EST:  Mini Retreat                                Power, Threat and the Meanings of "Suicide"  Sunday, May 20 ~2-5pm EST:  Mini-Retreat                   Power, Threat and the Meanings of 'Mania'  Wednesday, May 23 ~8-9:30pm EST                                          Surviving Entrapments  Friday, May 25 ~8-9:30pm EST                                            Surviving Disconnection and Loss  Saturday, May 26 ~2-5pm EST:  Mini-Retreat                              Power, Threat and Angry Meanings  Sunday, May 27 ~2-5pm EST:  Mini-Retreat                   Power, Threat and Addictive Meanings  Sunday, May 27th ~Starting 10 PM EST                                                              Memorial Day Story Telling Marathon                                                     26.2 hour vigil, our lives go the distance                                                                       Tueday, May 29 ~8-9:30pm EST                                               Surviving Social Exclusion and Shame   Wednesday, May 30 ~8-9:30pm EST                                             Surviving Coercive Power  To Join Us:   Join by computer: Join by phone: +1 669 900 6833 or +1 646 558 8656 Enter Meeting ID: 119 362 879 International callers:     More info at: &

Friday, May 4th ~8-9:30 pm EST      

Join by computer:

Join by phone: +1 669 900 6833 or +1 646 558 8656
Enter Meeting ID: 119 362 879

International callers:

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.

This only makes sense.  A simple fact of the human condition is that none of us is immune from the adversities of life, no matter how socially or economically privileged.  At the same time, socially valued identities tend to offer far greater compensatory power, status and control.  A hallmark of privileged identities is the ability to access social capital in the face of distress, as well as greater options for support, escape, protection, safety and healing.  Indeed, these cultural advantages are what make ‘privileged' qualities seem so socially appealing in the first place.

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,
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,

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,

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.

Tonight's workshop

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: 

  1. ‘What has happened to you?’ (In what ways have devalued identities led to you being  over-powered, under-powered, dis-empowered ...?)
  2. ‘How did this affect you?’ (What threats has this posed to your needs and survival?)
  3. ‘What sense can you make of it?’ (What did these situations and experiences mean for you?)
  4. ‘What did you have to do to survive?’ (What strategies did you use to respond to threats or create meaning from adversity?)
  5. ‘What values, strengths and resources have you been able to access? (Or might you try to access?)
  6. ‘What is your story?’ (How does all this fit together?)

The Power Threat Meaning Framework: Guided Discussion, 

For more info:

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