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I suffer from depression and anxiety. I am a feminist. These two things are major parts of my life, and they are surprisingly intertwined.
Feminism holds the belief that every single person has an inherent worth, regardless of their social identity. Feminism is about acceptance, whereas our society fosters insecurity. No matter what corner you look in, there is some ideal or other you’re busy not living up to. You’re not smart enough. You’re too smart so now you’re intimidating. You’re too fat. You’re too bossy. You’re too emotional. Feeling, hearing and seeing these messages every day, you’d be forgiven for thinking the world was out to get you. And when you are already vulnerable due to a mental health condition, navigating this minefield can feel impossible. At a time when my mind was swirling with negative thoughts that I felt I couldn’t fight, I saw feminism fight the same negativity in society. Feminism was fighting for equality for people across the world. It was fighting for me. Because I was worthwhile. We were all worthwhile. With the help of therapy and medication, this message started getting through to me. While feminism was knocking at the world’s door, demanding all women, all people, be treated with love and compassion, I was doing the same in my own mind. And let’s face it, we can all do with a bit of self-love. Everydayfeminism.com even teaches a course on it.
I have heard many anti-feminists say that feminism causes depression. Um, how about no? Depression can be triggered by a number of factors combined; for example stressful events, illness, family history, personality, isolation and giving birth. Can we forgive these anti-feminists for thinking feminism causes depression? Well I’m not in a particularly forgiving mood, especially when it comes to ignorance about mental health conditions. But, in fairness, being a feminist isn’t always easy. In fact, sometimes it’s downright exhausting. Feminism confronts horrifying issues like rape and sexual violence which can be really upsetting and being aware of the oppression being experienced around the globe is really tough. (And if you are experiencing oppression, that’s even tougher.) On top of all that you have to contend with constantly reasserting why feminism is necessary to every Tom, Dick and Harry (and Tess, Dianne and Harriett) all the live long day. But feminism also comes from a place of love. It places equal value on all people. It allows you to place value on yourself, even when society is telling you otherwise.
1 in 4 people in the UK will suffer from mental health issues each year, according to mental health.org. Researchers from Cambridge found that gay people are more likely to suffer mental health problems and are more likely to have negative experiences with primary care services. Research from Cambridge reveals that trans* people are at a higher risk of depression, self-harm and suicide due to the higher levels of discrimination they encounter. If ever I saw a need for feminism and its fight for sexual and gender equality, I see it in those realities. Women are also more likely to experience both depression and anxiety than men. This is thought to be due to both social and biological factors. The negative social issues women have to face that men don’t, well feminism thankfully is pretty vocal about those. However it is men that are most at risk of suicide, with male suicide accounting for 77% of all suicides in the UK. (ONS) While society is publicly policing and hating women, it is silently killing men. Women are more likely than men to get help for their depression, and it is only through getting help that one can work towards self-love and recovery. So why aren’t men opening up? Time To Change, a charity working to end mental health discrimination, asked this question of its followers. Many of the answers stated the fear of being seen as weak. Our patriarchal society teaches men that they must be strong, invincible, emotionless. Emotions are for the hysterical and frail women, after all. But with this mentality you can see why women may then find it slightly easier to talk about their emotions than men. But feminism wants to break down these silly gender stereotypes, so that emotions are not seen as weakness just because they are associated with the feminine. Another issue brought up was the stigma and lack of understanding (something feminism can very much identify with) surrounding mental health issues, though this issue can affect all genders. And this stigma is rather reminiscent of victim blaming. The idea that the mentally ill are somehow to blame for their condition is like blaming someone for being raped. “Rape is bad but I mean… well you really shouldn’t have drunk so much” “Yeah depression sucks but you really should have pulled it together by now”. Both sentiments just make me so MAD it’s hard to even express it. All in all society doesn’t seem all that conducive to recovery. People feel like they can’t speak up from fear of being seen as weak or crazy. For me, that’s where feminism came in.
Feminism makes sure safe spaces exist. Safe spaces provide areas where members of oppressed groups are free from judgement in an accepting environment. Safe spaces provide a network of support and understanding, so experiences will not be belittled or judged, as they may be in wider society. These words are straight from FemSoc’s safe space policy. In short, feminism gives you the space to speak up. Therapy taught me to speak, but feminism gave me the space to do so.
If you are suffering from mental health issues you can contact the university’s First Support service on 023 8059 7488 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you just need someone to listen you can contact Southampton Nightline on 023 8059 5236 or free from halls on 25236. If you want to get involved with a feminist community you can come along to a FemSoc meeting, every Thursday during term-time, 7pm L/T B in the Nuffield Theatre.”