Feminism and Mental Health #2

On October 18th we had a great Discussion Night at the office of Mama Cash, where we discussed mental health in relation to feminism. In this blogpost, we want to highlight some of the things that we discussed.

First of all, it should be mentioned that a night like this can work like a trigger. Talking about one’s past and using ableist language can be hurtful and emotional. This came up yesterday and we weren’t really prepared for it. We try to learn from these instances and provide a space that is as safe as possible, however we shall not always succeed. We do continue to try to improve. If you ever feel triggered or unsafe, please let us know.

We started the night of with discussing ableist language and trying to find suitable alternatives for ableist phrases. If someone is having moodswings, don’t call them bipolar or a schizo. If someone is being unreasonable, don’t call them crazy. If someone is upset, don’t call them hysteric.
For some phrases, it was hard to come up with good alternatives. If you’re going to say that someone you don’t know looks anorexic, it might be better to not say anything at all. Other words, like idiot or imbecile, once were used as official terms in psychology. Many people are not aware of this history and use the word to indicate that someone is being dense or silly. Is that okay? Can a phrase lose it’s original charged meaning and can it then be used as a more or less innocent swearword?

This can also happen the other way around, someone pointed out. The word Queer was used as a offensive term for non-hetero and non-cisgendered people, but has been reclaimed and turned into a proud term for Queer people. One of the participants at the discussion night talked about the Mad Movement. This a movement of people who live or have lived with mental health issues, who describe themselves as Mad. This is another example of how a derogatory term can be reclaimed and worn with pride.


Another topic that was discussed a lot, was how we live in a meritocracy in which every person needs to fit a very tight frame. You should always be happy, never be crazy or angry. You should be concentrated and tidy (- but not too tidy!), thin and sporty (- but not too thin!). You should never be stressed, tired, or too busy. And you shouldn’t be lazy or bored. When you don’t fit this tight frame, you might get labeled with any of a myriad of diagnoses.
So shouldn’t this frame be wider? Shouldn’t it be more acceptable to sometimes feel like crap? To sometimes be emotional?

There is an approached dubbed neurodiversity, in which certain conditions are seen as variations in neurological development rather than disorders or illnesses. Having such an outlook on neurological development can widen the frame and make society more inclusive for people who have trouble concentrating or who are socially awkward from time to time.
But at the same time, there are people who are chronically depressed, or susceptible to addiction and eating disorders due to ADHD, or unable to sustain themselves due to their autism. Calling those things ‘neurodiverse’ may be very harmful to those who suffer from these condition.

We also touched upon how patriarchy causes mental health issues. In a society in which an enormous amount of women have to deal with sexual violence, it’s not weird that many women suffer from anxiety or depressed feelings. Women who have been through such experiences can be traumatized and in need of help. And in a society that teaches that ‘boys don’t cry’, it may not be surprising to see that jails are filled with men. So reducing stigma and creating more inclusive spaces is very much needed. Having discussion nights like this hopefully contribute to this.

When I was 20, I was institutionalized because of my mental health issues. One night at a party, a middle-aged man asked me: “So, whose life have you ruined? People like you always ruin other people’s lives, right?”  I was lost for words. How do you respond to such stigma? How do you recover from that? And most importantly, it was the other way around. I had not ruined anyone’s life, my life had been ruined. I was trying to rebuild what others had broken down.
I want to conclude this blog post with something I learned yesterday and I want to pay it forward. When you find out that someone has mental health issues, or has been institutionalized, don’t ask them “What’s wrong with you?”, because nothing is wrong with them. Next time say: “What happened to you?”, and then listen and see how you can be an ally.

Read more on…
Ableist language and alternatives
Recognizing autism in girls

Stichting Perceval – against the disorder industry (Dutch)
Stichting Perceval is a foundation that supports people that have special experiences, thoughts and/or behaviors, and prevents marginalization of these people.

Many thanks to Red Umbrella Fund & Mama Cash for hosting our night! 

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