World Mental Health Day: why just talking about stigma isn’t enough

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[CW: mental healthcare crisis, disability allowance cuts…]

I know I’ve talked about this before, but you know what? When 4 people per day die after being declared fit for work by the DWP (1) and benefit sanctions against people with mental health conditions are up 600% it needs to be shouted from the roof tops.

TALKING ABOUT STIGMA ALONE DOES FUCK ALL when people are dying from having their life support lines removed. I talked about it before here, and reblogged an article about it here. Since then things have just gotten worse.

That’s why it’s massively disconcerting to see charities reeling out the same old tosh about ‘talk to someone’, ‘seek help’, ‘you can speak up’. Yeah, breaking stigma is one element of helping to make life easier for those with MH conditions, but alone it’s an empty gesture. I mentioned in a previous post I went to the doctors two weeks ago and was literally told to go help myself (by being referred to self-help books.) I had to laugh, or I would have cried.

Anti-stigma campaigns won’t help people afford food, help them cope day to day or do anything to oppose the ruthless cuts to NHS mental healthcare and disability benefits. I’m disillusioned that big charities keep harping on about this rather than focusing on less socially acceptable ‘protest’ campaigns against cuts that really affect us.

Grassroots organisations like Mental Health Resistance Network and Disabled People Against The Cuts (DPAC) are doing this type of protest work. However they obviously don’t have the media coverage or budgets of the bigger charities (I’m thinking about MIND, Re-think etc – who do some amazing work, but are ultimately subject to campaigns concocted by well-meaning well-paid office staff who are ultimately out of touch with the everyday struggles of a tonne of mental health service users.)

Another element to consider is bigger charities funding streams and them not wanting to be seen to be ‘too political’. So they focus on employability and stigma instead of not upsetting donors.

However, in my book, if you focus on the fluffier, personal and individual side of things and totally gloss over the political and economic factors, then criticism in inevitable and justified.

What am I going to do about it apart from moaning? I’ve contacted Mental Health Resistance Network offering to start up a local branch, but they’re snowed under and quite small so I’ve not heard back. So the plan is when I’m feeling mentally stronger and have less voluntary stuff on my plate I’m going to look into starting a grassroots mental health / wider disability campaign group that tackles political and economic factors.

Because fuck playing nice. We’ve tried that. Time to be a thorn in their side.

 

  • This was quoted at the recent Psych Benefits event Friday 7th of October, a conference where those who work in psychiatry and psychology were openly criticising benefits cuts. Agenda can be viewed here.

**UPDATE** A few days after I posted this, MIND have announced they’re working with the DWP. Proves my point about charities cosying up to government to win contracts. Disaster for those they claim to support: http://www.mind.org.uk/news-campaigns/statement121016/

Fat and body acceptance

(TW: Fatphobia, ableism & I specifically mention gym statuses – so if you post them and you’re going to get upset with me disagreeing with them, I’m pre-warning you now.)

What does this have to do with mental health? Everything. Underlying or accompanying a lot of lack of feeling of self-worth is low self-esteem. It’s a vicious circle. We presume our low self-esteem is there because we suck and changing those things we don’t like about ourselves is the only way to move on.

Ever feel like you’re still not happy when you change those things? Like when you get more buff (presuming you can – that you’re able bodied) but you’re still miserable? Could it be there’s too much focus put on how you look rather than actually taking care of how you feel – your own sense of self?

I’m finally beginning to understand the things people say like ‘it wasn’t until I began to love myself that I lost weight because I was focusing on taking care of myself instead of crash dieting’. Although I’ll go on to say this is BS as the focus inevitably still comes back to weight and some of us can’t magic up self-love that quickly.

We’re taught to value ourselves by how we look, if we fit in and if we look like X aspirational person. As someone who dresses alternative, the alt scene is just as culpable for this – modelling clichés about skinniness or muscular types being more attractive – just like the mainstream.

What do we think this is doing to our mental health? Half of us will never looked like whichever airbrushed image we’re desperately aspiring to. Not only is it unrealistic, but it’s harmful. Perpetuating this bullshit that the beauty, health & gym industries shove down our throats is harmful. It often comes off as fat shaming and ableist.

For instance, it’s insensitive to post a picture of your workout/you at the gym when people viewing your feed may be too sick/disabled to make it to the gym. It’s backing up the idea that what you’re doing is virtuous and something to be congratulated, which therefore sends the message that not doing workouts or exercise should be shameful. Or that fat people should lose weight otherwise they’re bad in some way.

As well as being tactless, it comes off as fake body positivity. My guess is if most people were happy with their bodies, they wouldn’t need to share those posts. It’s to illicit a response (i.e. approval) from everyone else. People who have defended themselves by saying that they are keeping a track of their success and improvements in the gym – why haven’t you chosen ‘me only’ FB posts or kept it in a spreadsheet offline? Point is, to fat and/or disabled people who will never achieve those levels of fitness, it feels like those posts are designed to elevate yourself above us.

If you’re one of these people and you feel attacked right now, I urge you to have a think about why you do and the effects of it. I will obviously never tell anyone what to post on their social media accounts that is up to them. But I think a bit of self-awareness and reflection is no bad thing.

In terms of defending myself, I’ve unfollowed all social accounts that repeat offend. I do go the gym, yoga and this clubbing dance class. I go primarily because of my mental health, to make me feel better. Secondarily, I go to look after my physical health. However it’s my own personal journey I don’t want to share with others because of the reasons above – and because it’s a personal journey.

Finally I’ve been working really hard at looking outwards in the terms of why I hate my body. I watched an awesome webinar by The Body Is Not An Apology (which I have done so much reading on to help me) on radical self-love & fat acceptance. It talks about how we’ve been totally brain washed to hate ourselves so we buy products and surgery etc to come closer to this ideal. It shares the idea we can reject all of this by practising radical self-love. Which is a fuck you to a society that tells us we’re worth less if we’re fat, as well as a fuck you to capitalism.

In terms of radical self-love, I’m trying. It’s hard when you’ve had anxiety and depression for more than half of your life. It’s also hard when even your own feeds on social media are full of fat shaming shit like the above, or more obvious versions of it. I’m working on body and self-acceptance for now though.