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.
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.
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 and edited by Juan Saavedra
OurSpace is a collective of young gay, bi, and queer men in Toronto who seek to support, develop and build our community.
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