Mental Health: Social and Systemic, Not Just Individual

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. What better week to write my first blog post on the topic. I created Affirm By Design as a lifestyle space through which I can share my personal journey with topics like mental health. Simultaneously, as someone who works in public health and who has long been committed to health, wellness, and wholeness within the LGBTQIA+ community, I also want to speak about mental health as a larger public health topic.

As I begin exploring the topic of mental health, I will intentionally look at the issue through social and systemic frameworks. Not doing so would be an enormous disservice toward and erasure of marginalized communities. Here’s why.

Media often feeds us the idea that mental health is an individual issue. That is a dangerous narrative that places all accountability on the person experiencing a mental health condition. Mental health will never improve without a collective effort. The framework of individualism through which we have been taught to view mental health essentially removes all context. This is especially dangerous during this time, when (1) we are experiencing the collective trauma of COVID-19, and (2) racial injustice has gone long unchecked in the United States.

The truth is, affordable housing is mental health care. Having healthy and plentiful food choices is mental health care. Racial justice is mental health care. Disability justice is mental health care. LGBTQIA+ rights are mental health care.

There is only so much that mindfulness, breath work, yoga, or medication can do if you are part of an oppressed or marginalized group. We need human rights, we need adequate care, and we sufficient resources.

As part of the LGBTQIA+ community, my mental health has been greatly impacted after hearing that two Supreme Court justices are making an attempt to overturn the 2015 marriage equality* decision from Obergefell v. Hodges. I have seen the panic that has ensued online from LGBTQIA+ families wondering if they will be able to visit their partner in a case of an emergency, or even have rights to their children.

*I want to acknowledge that although marriage equality currently exists for most LGBTQIA+ folks, disabled people actually do not have marriage equality. Read more about how SSI and Medicaid prevent marriage equality for disabled folks.

Mental health cannot be “solved” on an individual level. Our nervous system and our social relationships are deeply linked. As Irene Morning recently shared:

“The body’s first protective response is not fight or flight, it’s social connection. Co-regulation is that important.”

Additionally, mental health must be addressed through a lens of systematic oppression. As Margeaux Feldman wrote:

“Healing work that choose spiritual bypassing & refuses to acknowledge systemic oppression doesn’t heal trauma – it perpetuates trauma. Spiritual bypassing says, “Your lack of resources is just a perceived disadvantage.” Naming systemic oppression says, “Lacking resources is an actual disadvantage.” When we name systematic oppression, we can see how capitalism maintains its power by limiting access to life-sustaining resources… To call a lack of resources a “perceived” disadvantage is to gaslight trauma survivors & act in service of ongoing state violence, capitalism & inequity.”

To those who are healing, struggling, or a little bit of both (like me), you are valid. I took a poll on Instagram this week, and 81% of my followers who responded had experienced a mental health condition. You truly are not alone.

I hope you will follow along with me as I dive deeper into the systemic, social, and also deeply personal nature of mental health struggle/recovery. I never want to downplay the extremely personal and nuanced experiences someone may have with mental health. However, I also want you to know that your mental health struggles are actually a normal response to try to help keep you safe in a violent and oppressive society like in the United States.

More to come. Please reach out with thoughts, questions, or comments. ‚čí

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