Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Mental illness and community

I recently wrote about my mental health and disability for my professional newsletter. The article is linked below. This is a short summary of my Cyclothymia and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) in my professional career. I also included how campus resources have helped me start to move from the medical model of disability to the social model 1. This means seeing myself as differently abled instead of broken. My article also included the Institutional Research community. Sharing stories can help grow community connections.

This sense of community connection is important. For at least the past several months when my depressive episodes hit I have been struggling with my sense of belonging where I am in my campus community. I know depression lies. But it can be hard to keep sight of that when in the worst moods.

This has gotten me thinking more about what an inclusive community looks like. Campus resources have been helpful, and I do have some wonderful colleagues, both on and off campus. In those times when I feel like I don’t belong I have thought about if I could feel a stronger sense of belonging elsewhere. In thinking further, I realized that I can help with the community I’m currently in. Part of it is managing my own mental health, being intentional in spending time with others helps there. I can also help build support for others as well. I chair the assessment subcommittee of our campus Diversity Committee. I’m also leading our newly formed faculty and staff with disabilities interest group. Both of these together can help grow connections between colleagues along with assessing our progress. System change doesn’t happen with one person, this is a collaborative effort of people working together. I’m not just building my own support network, but also helping our community.

There is still stigma around mental illness. In sharing my story, I’m doing my part to help break the stigma. In thinking about disability as a social construct, versus an impairment 2, I was wondering if the stigma around mental health could be seen as contributing towards a disabling environment. Like how a building with stairs can be harder to navigate then one with ramps for someone with a physical impairment. A social environment where one feels less worthy because of their mental illness could make one feel more disabled.  

My ask eAIR article:

1 “Disability and Ableism in Higher Education,” Jennifer Ashton, Ph.D. and Milo Obourn, Ph.D.

2 “Disability as an Intersectional Social Identity,” Milo Obourn, Ph.D. and Jennifer Ashton, Ph.D.