I’m a psychologist – and I think we’ve been told devastating lies about mental health | Sana Ehsan

We live, we are told, by a ‘Mental health crisis’. mental health services Can’t handle an explosion of demand Over the past two years: 1.6 million people are on waiting lists, another 8 million need help but can’t even get on those lists. Even kids show up at A&E in despair and want to die.

But there is another way to see this crisis – one that does not place it firmly in the realm of the medical system. Is it not possible that many of us suffer? Of course it is: we live in an apocalyptic and uncertain world. The climate is collapsing, we try to stay on top of the rising cost of living, still burdened with grief, infection and isolation, while the police are exposed killing women And the Children who are looking for their clothes Breaking our faith in those who are supposed to protect us.

As a clinical psychologist who has worked in NHS services for a decade, I have seen for myself how we fail people by identifying their problems within them as a type of mental disorder or psychological problems, thus depoliticizing their plight. Six sessions CBT, designed to target “unhelpful” thinking styles, is really effective for someone who doesn’t know how to feed their family for another week? Antidepressants will not eliminate the harsh racial trauma experienced by a black man in a hostile workplace, and Classification of people who suffer from sexual violence with a mental disorder (In a world where Two women are killed a week in their home) does nothing to keep them safe. unsurprisingly, Mind doesn’t help kids Overcoming poverty, peer pressure, and competitive exam-dependent school conditions, bullying and harm are rampant on social media.

If the plant wilts, we will not diagnose it with “plant wilt syndrome” – we will change its conditions. However, when humans suffer under unlivable conditions, we are told that something is wrong with us, and we are expected to keep moving forward. To continue working and producing, without admitting our hurt.

In the effort to destigmatize mental disorder, “mental illness” is framed as “A disease like any other disease” – Rooted in a presumed defective brain chemistry. In fact, recent research has concluded that depression is not caused by chemical imbalance from the brain. Ironically, proposing a lifelong broken brain increases stigma and disempowerment. What is most destructive about this myth is that the problem and the solution are placed in the person, distracting us from the environments in which they Wave our plight.

Individual therapy is great for many people, and antidepressants can help some people cope. But I am concerned that an individual medical understanding of mental health is putting plasters on major wounds, without addressing the source of the violence. They encourage us to adapt to regulations, thus protecting the status quo. Here is what we most fail at marginalized people: Black people’s understandable expressions of hurt in living in a structurally racist society are often medical, described as dangerous and facing violence under the guise of “care”. Blacks are more likely to be electrocutedAnd the Divided, restricted, and overtreated more than anyone else in our mental health services today.

The UK can learn a lot from Editing Psychology. It was founded in the 1980s by a Salvadoran activist and psychologist Ignacio Martin Barrow, argues that we cannot isolate “mental health problems” from our broader societal structures. Suffering appears in people’s experiences and histories of persecution. Liberation psychology holds that people are not patients, but potential social actors in the freedom project, valuing their genealogy, creativity, and expertise, rather than forcing them to engage in A white, European-centric and individualistic idea of ​​treatment. It directly challenges the social, cultural and political causes of distress through collective social action.

This framework makes perfect sense when we hear it The pandemic in the UK affected the mental health of the poor the most. Does that mean that rich and privileged white men don’t suffer? Of course they do. We are still learning about the complex ways in which these structural issues affect our daily lives. For example, how the pressures of individualism and capitalism can lead to isolation and drug abuse, or how colonial violence towards immigrant families plays out both inside homes and on bodies.

Let me be clear, I’m not saying that people in distress should be right there in the picket line. The pain can be excruciating. But those of us who support people in distress, such as mental health workers, have a major role in social transformation. Social work is medicine that relieves people’s personal and collective distress.

Instead of trying to change ‘mindsets’ in therapy, we need to change hierarchies based on race and class, housing and the economic system. Universal Basic Income Has Psychological BenefitsAnd recent studies show how Improves “anxiety and depression crises”. As a clinical psychologist, some of my strongest work has not been in the treatment room but in successful advocacy for safe housing or community work with black, gay and black facilitators in organizations such as beyond equalityto prevent gender-based violence. the network Psychologists for Social Change He shows us a working visualization of this work. We also need preventive social change, such as investing in youth and community-led services such as Healing Justice London And the 4 in front of. They work to transform traumas in marginalized communities by building social connectedness, social action and creativity, toward a future free of violence.

None of this means dismissing the value of individual therapy (that’s part of my job, after all). But therapy should be a place where persecution is examined, where the focus is not only on reducing distress, but seeing it as a response to survival in an oppressive world. Ultimately, I would like to see a world where we need fewer healers. A culture that recovers and embraces each other’s madness. Where we take the brave risk (and sometimes skin-crawl) of turning on each other in our understandable chaotic pain.

Meaningful structural transformation will not happen overnight, although the pandemic has taught us that big changes can happen very quickly. But change will not happen without us: our adversity may even be a sign of health—a telling indicator of where we can collectively resist the structures that harm so many of us.

To return to the plant analogy – we must look at our circumstances. Water may be a universal basic income, safe and affordable housing from the sun and easy access to nature and creativity. Food can be love relationships or community or social support services. The most effective treatment is to transform the oppressive aspects of society that cause our pain. We all need to have whatever support is available to help us survive another day. life is tough. But if we could turn the soil around, get access to sunlight, nurture our interconnected roots and make room for our leaves to bloom, wouldn’t life be more livable?

  • Dr. Sana Ehsan is a clinical psychologist, poet, writer, presenter and educator

  • Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a letter of up to 300 words for consideration for publication, email it to us at guardian.letters@theguardian.com

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