On anxiety and the feminist movement- how mental health issues made me a ‘bad feminist’

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By Hannah,

This week is mental health week and I wanted to reflect on something that has been bothering me within feminism for a while. While I believe feminism has made amazing inroads into facing up to intersectionality and integrating various oppressions into its movement, I believe there is a fundamental issue which is consistently ignored: mental health issues.

I want to write only on anxiety because that is where I have personal experience. I should state that everyone experiences anxiety (and all mental health issues) differently- and my experiences may be different to others. I acknowledge that anxiety, along with depression gets alot of attention in the media and public discourse, at the expense of other illnesses that are just as important, however with this article, I do not want to generalise about mental health experiences, but instead use my own experiences to hopefully start a larger dialogue.

My first example is from a collective I was involved which was organising events around violence against women. During one meeting in particular, I left quite upset as a result of the discussion we had around sexual assault. One of my friends recommended to me that I simply leave the room when I found discussion triggering. I think I can generalise to say that this is a common recommendation given to people suffering from PTSD and anxiety. Personally, I found that suggestion inadequate. By having to leave the room I am highlighting to everyone that I have problems with these issues. While there is nothing wrong with being upset or triggered by particular topics, and alot of people feel comfortable speaking about their experiences with mental illness; some people don’t- and having to out themselves as suffering from anxiety certainly isn’t going to alleviate it.

But more importantly, it shouldn’t simply be the person who suffers from anxiety who has to ensure that a space is safe for them- it should be everyone’s responsibility. As I stated earlier, I believe feminism has made significant progress in ensuring intersectionality and the removal of language which is offensive to particular groups- but I don’t see that in regards to anxiety.

To use another example, I recently had a discussion with some women about an upcoming rally in Sydney. These women were frustrated that the rally would also have events that were not traditional protests as they believed it would detract from the importance of the march. When I stated that I was happy with the new format because it made the event accessible to people with certain physical disabilities and people who may feel uncomfortable marching at night because of anxiety, I was berated as not being committed to ‘real’ feminist protest. Obviously, I found this offensive. I think re-examining the way we go about protest is definitely called for. While I enjoy rallies, they can be alienating for a range of people, and I don’t think it is too much to ask that we run other forms of protest alongside rallies so that all voices can be heard- regardless of abilities.

I have been thinking about things that can be implemented to make feminist organising and protest a safer space for women with anxiety. I personally believe progressive speaking lists should be implemented and upheld to ensure that everyone’s voices can be heard and anxiety-inducing conflict can be minimised. I also think that electing a grievance officer no matter how informal a collective/event is, ensures that we are all constantly considering how spaces can be kept safe and inclusive. These are, however, only from my own experiences and I want to reiterate that each experience is different. I encourage you to start a dialogue with any collectives you are involved in and consider implementing simple steps to ensure that the invaluable opinions of people with anxiety continue to be heard.

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