This pandemic seems like such an obvious opening for western industrialized cultures to wake up and recognize the impact of structural inequalities and traumatic experiences on our individual and collective well-being. Yet our mainstream media and professional journals, fed by guild and corporate priorities, continue to emphasize the risk of mental illnesses that inherently exist within individuals, or are just waiting to emerge. A large focus of their narrative centers around risk assessment. I see risk assessment, used to net and guide us into the treatment streams most valued by those invested in separating us, a dangerous toxin clothed in care. Even authentic compassionate caring that is nourished by fearful assumptions is transmuted into othering, such as calls for “saving” the most “vulnerable,” whilst the most “vulnerable” have been excluded from contributing.
As Victor Hugo wrote in Les Miserables, “not being heard is no reason for silence.” If the voices of the majority are muted or silenced, that heightens the message of domination. We don’t need a war on mental illness, we need collective peacemaking that centers on the experiences of those who have been most harmed by systemic devaluation and “othering.” This includes our natural environment.
Our scarcity driven systems invest in separating and dividing us. We don’t need guild-driven narrators to distribute more tools for assessing individual pathology. This is a moment when collective fear can drive us into more binary narratives that sacrifice lives and futures. It is also a moment that human and environmental justice can pull us together to co-construct new narratives. We can form a movement around the common ground of being human in our surviving planet. Our biggest risk is allowing this existential crisis to melt away.
Turning towards one another gives us a chance to listen and connect, to restore basic justice that has been so obscured by dominance narratives. We must begin to listen to voices that are gasping to breathe. I naively thought that our global interconnection was now undeniable. But, more and more I see those invested in anachronistic narratives storm the media in a “scientific” blitz spinning messages which reassure some and profit only the few. We are provided campaigns to prevent suicide instead of calls for collective action to address the very conditions that lead people to see no other alternative. It’s time that we unite to co-construct alternatives to the current corrupt and barren narratives. For this we need to uproot racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, and all the other strains of separation and systemic dominance.
Those who envision enhancing our current “safety nets” often have not seen themselves in those whom they seek to “protect.” To do that we all must move into changing our relationships with our fears. Holding ever more tightly to familiar narratives that separate, label, detain, and “treat,” will reinforce the nooses choking us all. Truly sustainable nets are co-created when those voices we haven’t heard, those bodies we have feared and used, are centered and finally fully participate in weaving our futures.
Let’s tune in, listen, participate!
On May 7th there was an international conversation with a select panel on a Mad in America, An Urgent Conversation: “Mental Health is Our Common Wealth. Fear and Grief are not mental illnesses and they never were.” If you missed it, you can still listen to the recording: