When we consider power dynamics, we often consider our external environment and how power flows through the various parts of society, and where privilege is afforded by that power. While discussion of intersectionality and power dynamics is important when considering where discourse comes from and how it affects groups of people, we often don’t think about how such discourse injures our relationship with the Self.
Mental health has long been the remit of medicine. Distressing or unusual behaviour has been positioned as a pathology requiring treatment for decades, despite this approach not improving outcomes for those it affects in that entire time. We use a lot of troubling language when talking about psychological distress; disorder, condition, ailment, mental illness, psychopathology. Each of these words conjure up images of a medical emergency. They tell us that a problem is situated with us and that we need to be fixed.
We then also have to consider the militaristic language that surrounds medicine. “Chronic illness warrior” and “lost their battle to cancer” immediately spring to mind. The effect that these co-occurring discourse (see what I did there?) have on our sense of Self is to enter us into a fight with our own experiences. Experience helps shape the Self meaning that the popular discourse around mental health is placing us into a war with our Self. It is no longer okay to be us.
The irony here is that constant fighting with our own sense of identity causes further psychological distress. Perhaps the reason that outcomes in psychiatry have not improved for over half a century is because their methods and discourse are actually escalating our distress.
Instead of asking “what’s wrong with me?” We need to shift discourse over to “what happened to me?”. It’s vital that psychological distress be placed in the context of one’s environment and experiences of the complex power dynamics within them. There is a word for systems that require us to fight ourselves into a more socially acceptable place; oppressive.
Current systems within mental health treatment are weapons of the oppressive cult of normal.
As we look to the future, we need to consider how we will emancipate ourselves from normativity of all kinds and what we will accept as freedom. Society has spent a long time pathologising those identities and experiences that do not serve its own goals, and the time has come to stand tall and proclaim aloud; who I am has value, I will not be placed at odds with myself.