I recently presented at the Portland State University Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Student Research Colloquium on the topic of mental illness, feminism, and community. The bulk of my presentation drew upon my experiences as a woman experiencing bipolar disorder and the ways in which I – as well as my fellow sufferers – fit into our collective society, our community. The chasms separating the mental health community and the rest of society are deep, far deeper than many understand or wish to realize. Just as patriarchy is predicated on its ability to reproduce and perpetuate with blind acknowledgment and fatally passive actions, these chasms are maintained and deepened with every generation that passes in an uninterrupted cycle of oppression. Silence is the enemy of progress, development, and change, and far too often it is silence that falls from our potentially potent tongues.
Oppressions intersect and intertwine. Individuals experience the effects of multiple oppressions simultaneously – sexism, racism, classism, ageism, ableism. The effects of mental illness fall within the web of intersectionality. Feminism strives to build a society based upon equality and justice. I ask, how can this be done so if an aspect of the equation is missing, the presence of invaluable minds relegated to the periphery? If we remove the eggs from the cake batter, the cake cannot bake into a cohesive product. Such is what we are doing in the negligence and social annihilation of individuals experiencing mental illness. Individuals with mental illness also experience structural violence occurring on a broad spectrum, ranging from the denial of SSI Disability and inability to get adequate health coverage to the homeless who are lacking of any support or resources in both healthcare and daily living necessities.
So what is the remedy? It is the annihilation of silence. The employment of speech. The spread of education to interrupt this and other cycles of oppression. Talk and listen. Hear and be heard. We cannot build bridges and close gaps without the active participation of every member of society and the exercise of influence of the powers that be – ensuring access to adequate and comprehensive mental health care, securing homes for the mentally ill homeless that are not library stoops and church stairs, providing work environments conducive to the struggles people with mental illnesses experience, the elimination of all aspects of structural violence impeding the progress of our communities. Until this cycle of oppression is broken, to the periphery mental illness shall lie.