Mental Health and Feminism: An Intertwined Connection, As Seen Through the Eyes of An Activist

By Dakota Divinity

Photo Credit: Ambivalently Yours

Photo Credit: Ambivalently Yours

Where exactly does mental health advocacy fit within the intersectional feminist equation, and why should it be a prominent feminist issue in 2018?  Simply put, lack of mental health advocacy is yet another layer of oppression that women of all races and social classes experience, and one which needs to be addressed. Women’s mental health concerns are not always accepted as valid or serious, but this oppression is nothing shiny and new. It can be traced back as far as 1900 BC Egypt, with one of the earliest uses of the term “hysteria” to sum up any women’s health issue that deviated from expected gender roles, and this is a trend that continued well into the 1950's. Fighting for mental health treatment and accessibility needs to be addressed within the fight of intersectional feminism, because it truly affects the wider population, men and women alike, in an extreme manner. From my recent observations, it seems that the public only “advocates” for mental health awareness for a span of a few days after the death of a prominent public figure. After that, the topic seems to be pushed right back to the back burner, until it happens again. I have noticed this particularly within social media outlets such as Facebook. It makes for a trending news story that every journalist wants to cover and get the unnecessary and invasive details on, yet nothing of prominence is done to help alleviate such a widespread issue.

My opinion on more proactive solutions would include a complete overhaul of the mental health system by advocating for policy change, promoting early screenings and intervention for those at risk, and modernizing health care financing. We need to take serious action as a country, look at the statistics, and stop saying “if only,” and treating each loss of life as just another Facebook share.

According to the National Alliance On Mental Health, one in five adults in the United States today lives with a diagnosable mental health disorder. The most common mental illness, anxiety, affects more than 40 million adults every year in the United States. Anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder are twice as likely to affect women as they are men. Of the 300 million people who live with depression worldwide, women also experience depression twice as often as men.

These statistics of course, do not exclude feminists, we are just as prone to such mental illnesses. Marginalized populations, such as African Americans, are also at a higher risk for the grasp of mental illness. However, the African American population is statistically more reluctant to seek out treatment due to prevalent disparities in mental health care. Such disparities include a lack of intersectional care, a lack of research on complexities and their intersections with multiple identities, (may include financial, disability, immigrant status) as well as low collaboration regarding federal funding organizations on the topics of racial and ethnic research. Because of this large gap in information, minority individuals may not realize the ongoing symptoms of mental illness, which could lead to potential failure to recognize when to begin seeking assistance for managing it. Misdiagnoses, inadequate treatment, and lack of cultural competence by health professionals can also cause further distrust among patients, and may prevent many from seeking or staying in treatment. This is yet another issue that needs to be addressed in the equation of revamping mental health services.

I have had my own lengthy experience with mental health challenges, specifically regarding accessibility. I have been diagnosed within the past two years with both general anxiety and manic depression, dedicating each day to pushing through. It is exhausting. It’s even more difficult to try and advocate for myself when there isn’t a reliable system already in place to help to assist and support. Between financial barriers and dismissive doctors, it feels remarkably like screaming into a void, and only hearing the echo of your own voice, reverberating back at you. We need a massive overhaul of the mental health system. Let us be the ones to raise awareness and take our own experiences and use them for good.