A word on privilege

Posted on November 24, 2011 at 11:35 PM

The Impacts of Environment on Health

I'd like to take this opportunity to talk about one particular individual that has taught me a lot about environmental impacts on health - my axolotl Charlie.

Charlie has not had the best run in life - he had a hard time at the pet store when he was growing up, and for the first few years after coming to live with us he suffered from numerous health problems.

Whenever we would take him for treatment, the vet would immediately tell us to check the environment first. Are the water conditions right? Is there enough sunlight? Is Charlie being fed the right food? Only then, after we had ruled out everything in the environment that could be making Charlie sick, would the vet begin treatment.

What About Privilege?

Until recently, I thought I had a pretty good handle on what environmental factors could be making a person "sick" - are they exercising? Are they eating right? Are they living in a stressful household?

But then someone directed me to this article on privilege, and it served as an important reminder that there are many, many layers of environment to consider when you are dealing with problems with your mental health.

I've ummed and ahhed for a while about putting it on the site because privilege is not something that is generally talked about outside of activist circles. However, when you're talking about mental health, privilege is a very big deal.

There are two ways in which privilege can impact you if you have a mental health condition.

First, not having the privileges that many people take for granted (like being able to read and write, being able to drive a car or being able to speak english) makes it harder to get help.

Second, living in a society that is still not built to embrace difference means that if you fall outside of the norm in any way, you still need to deal with the stress of operating in a society that isn't built for your specific quirks.

Privilege effects us in other ways too - recent research has shown that being female, young, of lower education level and lower socioeconomic status are all risk factors for developing post traumatic stress disorder.

Acknowledging Privilege

What does this mean for you as someone struggling with mental health issues? Becoming aware of privilege can help you understand that your difficulty in dealing with your illness isn't your fault. Most likely, you live in a world that is just not designed for you - yet.

There is some good news - as society becomes more aware of mental health issues, the cultural environment is changing too. Take for example this company in Chicago - a computer company that is designed to help people with Asperger's Syndrome make the most of their strengths.

The next time you are struggling with something, take a different view. Ask yourself - what would my world look like if it were built for to make my life easier, rather than harder? Is there some way that I can change my environment to make it easier for myself? How can I put myself in an environment that plays to my strengths rather than my weaknesses?

If you are an employer or a friend of someone who is struggling, ask yourself - is there anything I can do to make this environment more inclusive? Are there any small changes that I could make that would really help this person?

Reframing your diversity as a unique and positive aspect of yourself will help you find ways to play to your strengths, rather than focusing on your weaknesses.

Categories: Mental health, Politics, Educational

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