You may already be aware, but National Suicide Prevention Week was just recognized in the U.S. from September 5th-11th, as well as World Suicide Prevention Day on the 10th. Though these days of recognition and advocacy have passed, it is important to me to take an opportunity to write about the importance of mental health to my personal feminism and experiences. Suicide prevention is an extremely important topic to me (and I plan to center future posts around it), but this post will focus on mental health more broadly.
Let me begin by stating that I am someone, among many, who struggles to maintain a consistent healthy mental state. I have an anxiety disorder. And sometimes that anxiety decides to invite depression and compulsive tendencies to the party going on in my brain. My anxiety and other mental health challenges are not the same as any other individual’s, therefore my experiences and my words do not encompass the entire conversation about mental health that needs to continue. That being said, I’d like to offer my perspective (for it is all I can know to be true) to the ongoing and evolving discourse.
Because of mental health stigma, it is important to distinguish anxiety disorders from high stress levels and poor stress management. These are not the same thing. Anxiety disorders are often not taken seriously because they do not always manifest visibly or distinctly (especially from expressions of stress). My anxiety is not consistent. It is not always present. It is not always evident to others. I can appear stable while internally experiencing anxiety. I can speak publicly and be outgoing and receive good grades all while experiencing anxiety. I can appear to “push past” my anxiety, but pay consequences of exhaustion and self-doubt later. Sometimes I cannot speak, breath regularly, or relax my muscles while enveloped in anxiety. My experiences of anxiousness are not always the same.
I have very recently begun to understand and self-identify my anxiety as an invisible/hidden disability. Some have described invisible disabilities as disabilities that are not usually immediately apparent, but that still hinder an individual’s ability to perform daily tasks and/or to achieve. Identifying anxiety as a disability is not an attempt to discredit other disability experiences. All differently-abled experiences, as with any identity, should be acknowledged separately from others under the category of disability.
Anxiety creeps in to nearly all facets of my life. It burdens my social relationships, it leads to difficulty in attempted relaxation, and it poisons my self-image. But most recently I have noticed its toxicity in my ability to achieve academically. My university has several resources available to students with mental health challenges, many more than countless other individuals have access to (especially non-students and lower socioeconomic individuals). This is really great! But simply having access to resources does not provide me with the necessary tools I need to do my very best. Students that struggle with mental health have access to “free” (I’ve given my school tens of thousands of dollars… nothing at college is “free”) counseling services and can register with the office of disability services, among other resources. Again, this is great. But the disability I have makes it very challenging to utilize these services. In order to receive my “free” counseling sessions I have to make a phone call to set up an appointment. My anxiety tells my brain that that is too terrifying of an experience to even attempt because talking on the phone with strangers sends my heart into a rapid rhythm and causes my hands to shake. In order to register with the office of disability services, I need proper documentation of my disability which means I need to take the time to see and pay for a health care professional to write on a piece of paper that I have an anxiety disorder and then set up an additional time to file that paperwork so that my instructors are required to work with my needs. Simply managing my anxiety already requires extra steps and concerns. There has to be a better, more accommodating way for students with mental health concerns to receive resources and assistance. (Really, educational institutions need to do much more to include and empower all differently abled people). In fact, instead of accommodating students with disabilities, perhaps the ways in which education is delivered should be adjusted as a whole. Perhaps we need a cultural shift away from excessive praise of “busyness” and hyper-productivity. Perhaps we need to find a way to altar the pressures of standard grading systems. Perhaps we shouldn’t emphasize verbal in-class participation grades because it is painful for some to force their voice in groups. Of course, there’s seemingly no “perfect” system that will best serve every struggling individual, but we can certainly do better.
Because I try to be mindful of an intersectional approach to feminism, I acknowledge the ways in which our society creates privilege for those without disabilities… also known as ableism. Many of our institutions are designed for the success of able people. People without disabilities are more likely to receive higher paying jobs, have and raise children, and are even able to enter buildings more easily. Living with disabilities becomes even more challenging for individuals that are non-white, not binary or gender conforming, not heterosexual, not wealthy, as well as a multitude of other under-privileged categories. Because of my many social privileges, I am able to manage my disability much more easily than others, but there are countless individuals that are not granted the privilege of reaching their full potentials.
How are your communities enabling ableism and what are we doing to change this?
Note: I wanted this post to focus on the overlaps of mental health, disability, and privilege, but there is so much more to be said on the topic of mental health and suicide prevention. I hope that you will join me on a journey to create communities of caring and love, so that those struggling with mental health are embraced with compassion and empowered to live life fully.
If you or someone you care about struggles with mental health in any capacity, there are resources available. As mentioned in this post, these resources often fall short of perfect and it is not always helpful to simply have them available, but I will still include them. Ultimately, if you need support managing your mental health, I encourage you to reach out to someone trusted and ask for help.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Trevor Lifeline (specifically for LGBTQ individuals ages 13-24): 1-866-488-7386
GLBT National Help Center: 1-888-843-4564
To Write Love On Her Arms: https://twloha.com/
It Gets Better Project: http://www.itgetsbetter.org/pages/get-help/