Out of mind, out of sight

Why do people assume that a “broken” brain means a “broken” mind, heart and soul?

I can’t speak on behalf of the difficulties that people dealing with mental health issues experience, but I can give my perspective as an observer. Mental health, like Black History Month, is a conversation that doesn’t end with its delegated time. This will hopefully be the first of many posts and discussions to ensue from this topic.

Why is mental health so stigmatized? I don’t mean poor mental health or good mental health, just mental health in general. People are afraid to suggest the topic, it’s like the brussels sprouts of conversations. If you have a problem with your heart, leg, lungs or stomach, you can go and see a doctor with little fear of being judged or looked down upon. Why does that change when we shift to the brain? Why do people assume that a “broken” brain means a “broken” mind, heart and soul? You’d think that something so central and vital to the human body, something so intricate and sensitive, would be approached with openness and impartiality.

Mental health, like one’s sex, colour or sexual orientation is not something rooted in choice. No one wakes up one morning and thinks ” you know what, today feels like a good day to start my depression” or “bipolar disorders are trendy, I’ll try that!” These aren’t garments or fashion pieces picked out of a wardrobe. They are garments one is forced to wear, that societal voices make only more suffocating.

Take sex. Sex deals with the physical difference between men and women. We’ve heard this before (sorry if I’m the first person to tell you this): women have vaginas, men have penises, men tend to be taller than women, women tend to bear babies. Then what society does is distort these differences, taking the physical and moving it into the societal, stereotypical, gendered and political. You have sex and then you have distortions of sex in gender, which is similar to mental health, only the distortions are amplified.

Millions of people are affected by mental health issues. With increased joblessness, stress, engineered hormones, media exploitation and other factors, the “issue” of mental health isn’t going anywhere. There are misconceptions about mental health out there, and I’ll admit, I’m in the process of re-educating myself. I wouldn’t want to be judged by my skin or sex, so it’s only fair that I take that approach with others.

Are you a feminist, sexual rights activist or humanitarian? Do you believe people are more than their skin, hair, sexual partner, situation, upbringing or religion? If you nod yes to any of these, then by default you should also be a mental health activist.

I’m waiting for the right “opportunity” to change

Here’s a video celebrating 25 great African American women.

This is NOT directed specifically towards Cristen, but to the greater issues of Black History Month. I’m just taking offense to the idea of Black History Month as an “opportunity”. The video was very informative (and hilarious, as Cristen always is) and I learned a lot about the contributions of black women. Cristen explicitly says in the comments that her intents are not to capitalize on the opportunity, but to show some really cool women that most people otherwise wouldn’t pay attention to. Check out her other videos, she has a fresh and analytical take on women and stereotypes, norms and roles. She also has some down-right-choke- yourself-laughing videos that are just fun to watch.

So it’s Black History Month, as many of you know by the posts, videos, interviews and essays springing up everywhere on people of colour. Some choose to celebrate the accomplishments of black women and men, and others highlight how far we still need to go as people. However, with all the awareness and attention given not only to issues of prejudice and racism, injustices in sex, sexual orientation, mental health, disabilities and religious discrimination are discussed as well. A lot get’s done in these 28 days, yet I find fault with February’s identity as “an opportunity for change.” Black History Month is a means for discussion and change, but it is not the only month to discuss what’s wrong with the world. Did someone call you a racial slur in passing? Were you discriminated against at work for your colour? Are people giving you hell and their unwanted thoughts for being in an interracial relationship? Wait until February, that’s the appropriate time to discuss it!

Though Black History month isn’t blatantly advertised as the sole time to bring up issues of colour, we shouldn’t use the existence of the month as the only opportunity to be pissed off. Autism Awareness Month should be a year long event. Mental Health Month should be discussed everyday. If you are dealing with sexual assault, depression, racism, or anything else of that nature, your voice should be heard everyday of the year. And that’s the thing, people do voice their concerns, but we don’t hear them until their voices are amplified by their assigned time, and then we have no choice but to listen. These concerns don’t expire with the end of their allocated month, day or week, so why should we act as if they do?

With that said, I’m not going to ignore February and pay attention to racism only during the other eleven months. That would be no better, really, than paying attention only in February. Let’s force people to focus on what’s wrong with the world 365. Let’s see them constantly uncomfortable, squirmish and self-reflective so that the only way to make us stop blabbering about our issues is to actually listen to them. Everyday is a good day to disrupt societal norms and effect change.

Do you feel Black History Month, and others months and days dedicated to change, work towards change while simultaneously undermining their efforts? Do you focus on issues of race, sex, sexual orientation, environmental destruction, poverty, mental health and physical health on a daily basis? If yes, what are you doing to stir things up? What are your thoughts on the video and “opportunity?”