I became a feminist because of my mental health.
Even before I was comfortable with the words “eating disorder” to describe what I was experiencing, I initially grew to love feminist activism because I was comforted by the idea that my body belonged to me, and me, alone. But during my first year of college, I finally confronted the word “eating disorder,” and by sophomore fall, “depression,” “anxiety,” and “panic disorder” joined the list. Although these words were comfortable in my mind, they tasted bitter in my mouth. They were difficult to say to myself, and even harder to explain to others. Still, knowing I had feminism on my side was a major aspect of my ongoing recovery. Feminism taught me self-love and bodily autonomy. More importantly, it was through feminist social media that I was introduced to amazing feminist activists who struggled with the same illnesses I did. I learned I wasn’t alone, and that my struggles didn’t make me a bad person.
Through feminism, I also grew comfortable calling people out, telling my story, and taking self-care days. But more than my own personal path to feminism via mental health, let’s address the ways in which mental health is, at its core, a feminist issue.
1. Our ideas of gender roles, race, sexuality, and class strongly inform and perpetuate how we understand mental health.
This manifests itself in a variety of ways, but one is that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (or the DSM) is used under the assumption that the clinician using the DSM to diagnose a patient is of a “dominant culture.” Essentially, this means capitalist, white, heteropatriarchal norms dictate the ways in which people are diagnosed, and therefore treated. This also means access differs depending on these intersecting aspects of identity.
2. Recovery often requires self-love.
Audre Lorde said it best when she stated, “Caring for myself is not an act of self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” People with marginalized identities are taught not to love themselves. Feminism stands firmly against that notion and teaches lessons of how to care for oneself. Self-love is revolution.
3. Because the brain is an organ, and a very important one, caring for mental health is a form of bodily autonomy.
Whether we are discussing body image or an individual’s decision to take medication, mental health activism is largely centered on the idea that we should all be able to make informed decisions about what to do with our health.
4. We likely would not have feminist activism without a certain extent of mental health activism.
We know the statistics on mental health: one in four adults live with a diagnosable mental health disorder. If we apply that statistic to the breadth of the feminist movement, it accounts for a lot of activists. We need to care about mental health because it affects us all.
I am a feminist. I am also someone who experiences mental illness. While these are two intersecting aspects of my life and activism, they are often separated. Let’s work harder to incorporate mental health into our activism, not only in theory, but also in practice. This means being aware of people who are unable to be “activists” in the traditional sense, encouraging self-love and self-care, and actively eliminating ableist language out of daily speech.
Mental health is a feminist issue because we, as feminist activists, will need to care about our holistic well-being if we can succeed as a movement.