Oppression is Exhausting: On Marginalised Mental Health

Written by Amit Singh

Image by Sylvia Hong

10.02.17

For people of colour living in the UK, the fact that Black men are 17 times more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health condition than their White counterparts will hardly come as a surprise. Their lived experiences can attest to the fact that living in Britain as a person of colour is a never-ending mental health problem.

We are relentlessly lambasted in the press and by politicians, pathologized as either terrorists, in the case of South Asians, or criminals, in the case of Black people. Seen as hindrances, as blemishes on an idealised fantasy of British society, we are constantly expected to justify our positions here. We fear the very real threat of physical violence or harassment, which has surged in recent years as nationalistic fervour increases and lines are drawn between those who conform to exclusionary British ‘values’ and traits, and those who are seen as other.

It is exhausting. It is anxiety-inducing, stressful and often depressing. We are suffering an agonising colonial hangover that repeats again and again the central lesson that people of colour are in some essential way inferior – how else could we have allowed ourselves to be owned? We internalise toxic guilt, and learn to feel unworthy.

It is not just people of colour that experience such unrelenting mental and emotional pressures. It is anyone who falls foul of white, masculine heteronormativity’s paranoid pursuit of self-preservation. Yet conversations around mental health systematically fail to engage with race, gender or sexuality. And as such, mental health epidemics in marginalised communities come to be treated as a problem, rather than a symptom.

The way for us to move towards a more mentally healthy society is not just to destigmatize and have better funding for mental health services, or even just to have more appropriate mental health services specifically aimed at people of colour – although these things are certainly needed. We need to look to dismantle, deconstruct and then reconstruct the structures that exist within our society that are making us so unhappy.

Consented’s latest print issue attempts to show how normative and interlinked structures of oppression are connected to mental health. Simply put, we cannot effectively examine mental health problems if we do not also examine society’s role in perpetuating unhappiness, low self-esteem and related ills.

There is hope, no matter how bad things might seem after a pretty bleak 2016. Despite Trump, Brexit and Le Pen, we can work together to create a better society, even if the odds are stacked against us. There are organizations out there working towards creating more inclusive mental health services. Mind,The Black and Asian Therapist Network and Nafsiyat are all examples of organizations that are out there working towards creating more inclusive mental health services that specifically cater to BAME individuals. Brent Mind produced a film last year to raise awareness about the lack of funding for BAME mental health services, and have since been working on this area.

At a time when people of colour are so often demonized, we must take time out to practice self-care. Of course, this is easier said than done, and the process will be different for everyone, but we all must be kinder to ourselves. As Dorett Jones writes in the Consented magazine:

“Adopting self-care strategies will be whatever works for us as unique individuals, be that a person of colour, a disabled person, a queer person, a young person, an older person, an atheist, a person of faith, an activist, an agnostic, or however we self-define. We all must find our own rhythm and it is that journey of discovering, whether that be attained through quiet contemplation in your front room or on the cross-trainer at the gym, walking in the park or marching in protest through the streets, that will reveal how you do self-care.”

Doing this is fundamental for our survival in what can be an extremely taxing and tiresome world we live in. More broadly, it’s important we step back and remember that human beings are naturally loving and empathetic; it is the normalisation of artificial systems such as capitalism and colonialism that have made us think otherwise. We need to create a society based not on individualism, capitalism and colonialism, but on community, love and mutual respect for difference. It is possible.

Purchase a copy of Consented’s mental health issue here.