Recap: Mental Health Workshop

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As young queer men living in a heteronormative world, our understanding of mental health and our own mental wellness is challenged on a daily basis. The issues that affect the unique mental health needs of the queer community can often go unnamed and unseen. Bringing these issues to light and discussing strategies is essential to well-being. Thus, our second workshop was on mental health, entitled “Queer Minds and Radical Visions.”  The co-facilitators were Drew Silverthorn and Maverick Smith. In our discussion we determined that it’s necessary to recognize different approaches to being mentally well.  We also affirmed that we must work to remove stigma around mental health issues, so that people feel comfortable accessing support.

 

Activities included working
through specific scenarios of meeting, maybe even dating, someone living with a
mental illness. How do you react when someone discloses their mental health
status to you? What assumptions do we make about people who identify as “mad”?
What does it mean when trans-identified folks must be clinically diagnosed to
have specific health needs met, particularly at an institutional level? A more
comprehensive and competent approach to recovery is necessary to address
individual mental health issues, especially for gay, bi, trans, or queer folks.

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For the next part of our workshop
we did a mental wellness mapping exercise. We asked ourselves what
conditions, policies, and resources are necessary for mental
illness.  We also considered whether personal or biological deficits
lead to being mentally unwell, as there are many theories that offer ideas
beyond the biological model.  The
workshop created an environment wherein guys were not expected to know all of
the answers and were learning from each others’ experiences. When you’re
surrounded by a diverse group of individuals, the possibility for learning is
limitless.

We discussed how there can often
be a divide between the clinical camp versus the social determinants of health
camp, but that supporters of each approach can actually meet
halfway.  Mental health does comprise a combination of biological,
psychological, and social factors, and it’s important to address each of them
when you’re experiencing issues.  We emphasized that if therapy or
counselling is used, it’s essential to make sure it is queer-friendly;
otherwise, it could just make things worse.

Stigma around mental health issues
was identified as another barrier to mental wellness.  Someone shared
a story about how their brother suddenly lost his job and girlfriend after a
severe mental health episode, which had not been preceded by any
symptoms.  This prompted someone else to talk about how that story
scared them because they see themselves as extremely aware, and they like to
believe that nothing can take them over.
We discussed how this idea that mental illness comes from “weakness” can
hold people back from seeking help with an illness – they may think they should
be “strong enough” to deal with things on their own.  But mental
illness is not a sign of weakness, and can affect anyone, no matter how
“strong” they may be.  The important thing is to seek recovery and
support when you’re dealing with a mental illness.  Whether that includes therapy, medication,
peer support, or any other technique or combination of approaches is up to the
individual.  We emphasized that there is no “one size fits all”
approach to maintaining mental wellness, and that each person must be
considered on an individual level.

In support of multiple approaches,
we emphasized that “pill-shaming” – the idea that mental health sufferers don’t
need pills, but just good self-care in the form of diet and exercise, etc. – is
detrimental to encouraging mental wellness.  We pointed out that anyone
can be affected by mental illness, no matter their identity or socioeconomic
status, or level of physical health.  It’s essential to make
conversations about mental health accessible and acceptable, so that people are
aware of how to deal with issues when they arise, and what supports exist to
aid in their recovery.

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We finished our workshop with an
inventive exercise that had us envision what would have to happen to achieve a
perfect world where all mental health issues are solved.  This
exercise had us sketch out a play about a community that ends mental health
barriers to create that utopic world.  Interestingly, our
participants were evenly divided between imagining solutions that were either
top-down (i.e. government legislation with political intervention) or
bottom-up (i.e. grassroots-oriented among social networks).

In the end, we concluded that stigma around mental illness must be eradicated
in order to support mental wellness.  This starts with each of us
opening up that dialogue around mental health, so that it’s no longer seen as a
personal weakness or secret shame, but rather a part of life that can affect
any of us.  When we do this, we make it easier for our friends,
family, and community members to seek the support that they need, whatever form
that may take for them.  Because when the people we share our lives
with are well, we all live happier and healthier lives.

Written by Liam McElheron

Edited by Juan Saavedra

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