“I used to be chained around the waist and one ankle. My waist used to hurt because the chain was so heavy. My leg used to hurt, I would scratch it and cry. I felt relieved when the chain was removed.”
An estimated 792 million people globally – that is 1 in 10 people, including 1 in 5 children – have a mental health condition. Despite this irrefutable fact, governments spend less than two percent of their health budgets on mental health. The absence of proper mental health support and knowledge of how to cope with a mental health condition has lead to thousands of people being shackled in inhumane conditions.
“People in the neighborhood say that I’m mad [maluca or n’lhanyi]. I was taken to a traditional healing center where they cut my wrists to introduce medicine and another one where a witch doctor made me take baths with chicken blood.”
—Fiera, 42, woman with a psychosocial disability, Maputo, Mozambique, November 2019
This brutal practice is an open secret in many communities, according to Kriti Sharma, the senior disability rights researcher at the Human Rights Watch. Sharma and her team compiled a 56-page report titled “Living in Chains: Shackling People with Psychological Disabilities Worldwide,” shedding light on the conditions in which people with mental disabilities are bound by families in their own homes or in overcrowded and unsanitary institutions against their will. This is due to the widespread stigma and taboo of mental health issues within governments and health institutions in several countries. In state-run, private, traditional, and religious institutional “healing centers,” people with mental health conditions are often forced to fast, take medications or herbal concoctions, and face physical and sexual violence.
The Human Rights Watch’s study of 110 countries unveiled evidence of shackling people with mental health conditions across age groups, ethnicities, religions, socioeconomic levels, and urban and rural areas in about 60 countries. Countries that indulge in these types of practices include Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China, Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Liberia, Mexico, Mozambique, Nigeria, Palestine, Yemen, and several more.
Though a number of countries have started to acknowledge mental health as a real problem, the inhumane act of shackling remains largely out of sight. There is no data or coordinated effort at either international or regional level to eradicate the binding of people who are mentally ill. The act of shackling impacts both the mental and physical health of someone who is already ill. Some effects include post-traumatic stress, malnutrition, infections, nerve damage, and cardiovascular problems, not to mention the loss of dignity. The #BreakTheChains Movement is an organization devoted to bringing awareness of shackling to nations and increasing access and awareness of mental health services in countries where shackling is a common problem. The movement has been successful in Indonesia where its country-wide interviews and advocacy led the government of Indonesia to deepen its commitment to #BreakTheChains. Over 48 million households in Indonesia now have access to community-based mental health services.
Laymen can also assist the movement by following two easy steps: sign the pledge, and share the movement on social media to promote awareness. It is time to acknowledge that mental health is a real issue that affects millions of people, and shackling and ignoring the issue will not resolve any issues, nor will it reduce the stigma associated with mental health. If we, as global citizens, have learned anything from this pandemic, it is how deathly and dangerous the invisibility of a disease is. Mental health is invisible like COVID-19, but there are always symptoms. Make an effort to educate yourself, and take the opportunity to check in on people by simply asking how someone has been. It really is that simple.
Amidst the global pandemic, we have all had to make some changes to our daily lives. It used to be normal to go to restaurants, movie theaters, and concerts, but now, for the most part, we stay away from those activities and social distance instead. While social distancing has slowed the spread of COVID-19, most of us are aware of the toll it takes on our mental health. Humans are a very social species, and social isolation can have a severe impact on overall wellness. Financial hardships and anxiety over illness contribute to a decline in mental health as well.
Social isolation has many benefits when it comes to slowing the pandemic. However, it drastically impacted the lives of many people in an unintended way. Loneliness has skyrocketed due to people only having contact with the people they live with—or no one. The effects can be even more confusing because social isolation affects everyone differently. Some people have pre-existing mental health conditions, and when the pandemic forced them into isolation, they recognized their symptoms worsening. While their original symptoms worsen, they also are more likely to develop PTSD than their counterparts without pre-existing conditions.
Even those without pre-existing mental health conditions are vulnerable to worsened mental health when facing social isolation, especially children and adolescents. Many people in this age group get most of their social interaction through school, and with many schools closed or on limited schedules, they’re not receiving the social interaction they need to grow. Because of the loneliness these children and teens are feeling, there is the increased risk that some of them will develop depression at an early age, with even higher rates than normal among those that have a family history of depression.
College students are facing very similar challenges that adolescents in middle and high school experience, except many have the added pressure of being away from their families while also no longer having a strong social network on campus to rely on. Many students are experiencing increased fear and anxiety in addition to depression, which can lead to physical health issues; anxiety and depression can worsen sleep and eating habits, which can have profound effects on a student’s energy, and in turn their performance in school and overall health.
Financial struggles have been shown to have severe impacts on a person’s overall wellbeing outside of this pandemic. Over a third of the United States’ population experienced negative financial impacts due to the pandemic. Hourly workers, who typically already struggle financially, were hard hit, which creates a lot of stress for them and their families. People who are worried about their finances may also be unable to seek mental health help from professionals, which could potentially improve mental health.
Many people with stable work before the pandemic hit, lost their jobs. They experience an added stress of worrying about evictions and foreclosures and where their next meal is going to come from. This can lead to higher levels of anxiety and depression, and in the past, economic downturn, which we have experience during the pandemic, is associated with an increased rate of suicide.
This pandemic has been a new experience for all of us. The COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t the first pandemic, and many are realizing it won’t be the last. This realization is increasing anxiety in many people, along with worrying about the health of immunocompromised loved ones or personal health. Additionally, many are worried about dying alone. This increase in stress can lead to an increase in anxiety and depression, along with other mental health issues, and worsen existing mental health conditions.
Being home all day has kept people in front of the TV, watching the news. It’s beneficial to be informed, but studies have shown that too much COVID-19 news can worsen mental health issues. This can exacerbate issues that already existed. One way to reduce being overwhelmed with the news, but to stay informed is to limit the time watching the news and instead get reliable information from the CDC, which updates information regularly.
Mental health is a human right, and should be a priority, especially during times or social isolation, financial hardship, and illness. An emphasis should be put on practicing self-care, but it’s also important that people who need help from a psychologist or psychiatrist get the chance to see them. During this pandemic, mental health has been put on the back burner. While many of the steps taken have saved countless lives, their impact on mental health should not be overlooked. In the future, when we take drastic measures, such as social isolation, we need to make sure the mental health aspects will be given the attention they need to be able to keep our population healthy in every way possible.
A large majority of people spend their time online talking to friends, sharing and obtaining news, or connecting with family. Our lives being connected to the internet has forced us to learn how to network and find our way around social media platforms. Social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, facilitated the creation of “cancel culture” as we know it today. Cancel culture is used to call out behaviors and actions of individuals and corporations that convey opinions or feelings which are objectively questionable or not appropriate from a public perspective. Engaging in cancel culture typically requires a series of hashtags that proclaim an individual is being cancelled. A hashtag followed by the word cancelled or a hashtag with a person’s name followed by the phrase “isover” are the most commonly used hashtags within the tradition of cancelling. This brings us to an interesting dilemma of whether or not cancel culture is an infringement on freedom of speech.
Infringement on Freedom of Speech
Cancel culture has proven to be an effective method to identify the actions taken by individuals and corporations to rectify mistakes. Recently, in light of social justice movements such as the Black Lives Matter Movement and #MeToo; during an election year, cancel culture has been used to take down racist statues, rename buildings named after white supremacists, call out celebrities and prominent figures in society, and address “racist, sexist, or homophobic views or ideologies.”
Cancel Culture from Two Perspectives
The first perspective is often from the people who are advocating against cancel culture. These people often have large platforms, and they are upset that their freedom of speech is being infringed upon due to the policing of cancel culture and they’re afraid of being criticized for their opinions. The first perspective against cancel culture revolves around the inability to take criticism.
The second perspective involves those that do not engage in exercising their right to free speech and expression. People are afraid of the repercussions of cancel culture so they choose to not express themselves. This second perspective of cancelling is more concerning because it involves actively suppressing the beliefs, ideologies, and perspectives of people and a true cancelling of these voices.
There is a delicate balance in defending the right to freedom of speech and holding individuals and corporations responsible for their actions. The issue with cancel culture is that there is no gradation and all missteps have the same severity of punishment. People can be fired, and student admission can be halted as a result of this. In most cases, it’s a trend to be cancelled where people jump on a bandwagon without the slightest amount of information on what they are cancelling.
On the other hand, “defending speech has become a tool to bully others into silence.” Often, proponents of free speech will quote the right to speech and expression granted by the Constitution to prevent others from criticizing them. While it can be a useful tactic in the short term to support an argument, it leaves no room for compromise. This tactic makes it impossible to find the equilibrium in a conversation, which I argue can be almost as bad as cancel culture.
A Different Option: Call Out Culture
More often than not, free speech is not being infringed upon. It is often a case of what boundaries are being set to speak in a public setting and if those boundaries are acceptable. While it is our responsibility to be open and receptive of opposing views, these views are not always in concordance to what a majority of people might believe. This gives leeway for a new type of action where the public can participate in call out culture instead of cancel culture. But before calling out, it is still important to give the opponent a chance to respond and hear their responses to avoid regressing and participating in what can be a very toxic culture. Responses do not need to include canceling, suppressing, or removing, but can include educating, accepting, and forgiving. This gives room where we can set boundaries safely and simply say, “I do not agree with you,” but even with this it is very situational where some actions are above disagreeing and need to be addressed properly.
For example, in 2016 a Pepsi advertisement featuring model and influence Kendall Jenner was incredibly tone deaf, and downplayed the severity of protests and the Black Lives Matter movement. The outcry against the ad prompted a response from Pepsi and Jenner apologizing for the missing the mark on trying to project “unity, peace, and understanding,” and for putting Jenner is this position. The public seemed to not hold Pepsi to the same standards that Jenner was held, and to this day still is, and essentially made her accountable for the apology, when every one that participated in the situation and production should have also been held responsible. On the other hand, Larry Nassar, who was national team doctor for USA gymnastics, was charged for hundred of cases of sexual assault under the pretext medical treatment for the athletes. Him, his actions, and his behavior harmed hundreds of lives and families, and so the public outcry against the individual, his actions, and the system that supported him was warranted and justified in a situation. Did he deserve to get cancelled? I think most people would argue yes, in a situation that is very black and white both morally and legally. Then the question becomes one of gradation. Did Jenner, a decent person often on the right path, deserve to get cancelled and held to the same standards of accountability, just as Nassar, and risk facing a stagnant and declining career for a misstep? For this, I think most people would argue no, because, yes while the ad was harmful to several communities, it was no where near the severity of Nassar’s actions. Yes, her participation needed to be addressed, but did it warrant “cancelling” a targeted individual because of their background instead of education them?
How to avoid cancel culture?
Do your own research on the situation or individual – the one being called out or cancelled as well as the individual doing the calling out or cancelling.
“We are asking for the European community to help. Why are they not listening to us? Where are the human rights? We took refuge in the European Union but where are they? There are no toilets, no showers, no water. Nothing. Not any security or safety. We die here every day.”
Devastation in Moria
On the night of September 8th, 2020, fires raged through Europe’s largest migrant camp in Moria, Lesvos in Greece. It is home to more than 13,000 people which is 6x its capacity. Recently, Moria has caused deep political divisions and unrest in Europe over Mediterranean migration. Moria serves a direct transit point for hundreds of thousands of people seeking refuge from Afghanistan and Syria with the European Union. After Europe started closing its borders and putting a quota on the number of immigrants 4 years ago, life in Moria began to be plagued by mental and physical health issues and desperation. What was originally a temporary camp, became the home of deplorable conditions for people who were running from another deplorable environment.
On the night of the fires, thousands of Moria residents were displaced and are currently being refused entry into Europe, being refused basic rights to shelter and safety, being refused access to proper shelter and sanitation, and being refused their human rights. Since fleeing the fires, the refugees have resorted to sleeping on fields and the sides of roads. Thousands of migrants are now demanding more permanent housing because their situation is so out of the norm and they just want to feel safe in one environment, but their cries for help are continuing to go unheard. The Greek government has taken positive steps to build a more permanent migrant camp, but this leaves little to no hope for refugees seeking a better life outside of Lesvos.
While accounts of how the fires started are currently being investigated the Greek government is claiming to have identified the culprits. Rumors of how the fires started are illustrative of ethnic and political tensions on Lesvos. The refugee migrants are tired of their poor living circumstances and the local population is upset with lack of regional, national, and international support for managing the influx of migrants and refugees on the island. While a second civil rights movement is happening not only in the United States, but all around the world, racial and ethnic tensions are high. Many refugees feel the European Union is turning its back on them. The European Union is becoming less tolerant for migrants and refugees, when it had once promised to help.
So how is COVID-19 affecting Moria?
Earlier this year, Greece went into lockdown and put travel restrictions on tourists coming in and residents going out. At the beginning of September, there was a small outbreak among the residents at the Moria camp, and human rights advocates are concerned that the Greek government is using this outbreak as an opportunity to further constrain the lives and freedoms of the migrants. The Greek minister for migration; Mitarchi, released a statement saying that the outbreak suggests need for a more “closed and controlled” environment for the migrants. This is odd considering that Moria has experienced far fewer cases than the rest of Greece, but the restrictions placed over the lives in Moria were much higher in comparison. In the Spring, the United Nations was so overwhelmed and concerned with livelihood and the living conditions at Moria that they called to expedite the migration process and related paperwork. So along with the day to day living conditions at Moria, COVID-19 and readily available access to healthcare is making life harder for the migrants. The fires may have been set in retaliation against the newer COVID-19 restrictions by the migrants or they might’ve been set by the local residents who fear the spread of COVID from the camp.
What is going on now?
In the meantime, while the Greek government is talking to French and Italian national leaders, riot police have been deployed to both the site where fires have been set, and also to the new refugee camp that is being set up to shelter those abandoned in Moria. This new site is at Kara Tepe where local media has identified helicopters that have been transporting tents and other necessities for the residents. In the fires, refugee documentation and belongings have been lost and burned, so it is still being determined how accessible the new site at Kara Tepe will be. Many refugees are now saying that they will not go back to another refugee camp where proper living conditions are not guaranteed, but the Greek government is saying that it will “not be blackmailed.”
The first is that it is an inclusive right. This means that it extends “not only to timely and appropriate health care, but also to the underlying determinants of health.” This includes things like access to clean water, safe working conditions, and important information about health. These factors, while clearly relevant to physical health, are also important in maintaining one’s mental health.
The second principle is that the right to health includes both freedoms and entitlements. Freedoms would include things like “the right to control one’s health,” while entitlements would include things like “the right to a system of health protection that provides equality of opportunity for people to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health.” This is significant because one needs to be able to access important information and resources related to mental health in order to have meaningful support for their mental health.
The third principle is that the right to health is a broad concept that can be divided up into more specific rights. For example, there are some aspects of health that are specific to people who are assigned female at birth, and those aspects are associated with specific rights. The right to mental health (and the rights associated with it) is one of the many rights that make of the right to health.
Mental Health Impacts Your Overall Future Health
According to the World Health Organization’s Constitution, health is “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Based on this, taking care of your mental health is not simply making sure that you are not actively going through a crisis. Being healthy is more than just surviving. Taking care of your mental health involves taking daily steps to care for yourself that not only improve your health in the present, but also protect your health in the future.
Having poor mental health puts you at a greater risk for physical health problems.According to the American Psychological Association, having a mental health condition reduces men’s life expectancy by an estimated 20 years and reduces women’s life expectancy by about 15 years. This is in part due to the fact that nearly two-thirds of people with mental health conditions do not seek any form of treatment.
Mental Health is a Key Part of Accessing Many Other Rights
You Have to Help Yourself Before You Can Help Others
You’re probably familiar with the concept of putting your oxygen mask on before assisting others on a plane. If you are struggling to breathe yourself, not only is your ability to help others inhibited, but you’re putting your own health and well-being at risk of harm. This can be applied to mental health as well. If you are facing serious struggles with your own mental health, it is important to focus on helping and support yourself before taking on responsibilities related to other people’s mental health.
For this reason, the maintenance of good mental health is especially important for people who work in fields such as human rights advocacy. The world of human rights is full of issues and topics that can be emotionally draining, so one can easily become overwhelmed by it all. It is vital that advocates make their mental (and physical) health a priority, even if their main concern is helping others. Self-care needs to be a part of any human rights advocate’s tool kit.
It is so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday life and forget to take care of oneself. We all do it sometimes. It is important that we set aside time to properly take care of ourselves and pay attention to our own needs. Mental health matters just as much as everything else that is going on, and that’s something we need to remember.
It is no secret that the United States has an issue of overcrowding prisons, which can lead to many issues regarding quality of life in prisons. Overcrowding in prisons is not just a problem in the United States; over 100 other countries also have this issue. In many countries, the criminalization of mental health is a factor that is compounding the issue. Individuals with severe mental illnesses not only need treatment that prisons don’t provide, but also can be put in dangerous situations when they are in prison. Despite this, they are more likely to end up in prison than in treatment.
Up until the 1960s in the United States, when someone had a severe mental illness, they were typically placed in a mental institution or asylum. In an effort to provide patients in mental institutions better community-based care and reduce government spending, the process of deinstitutionalization began. However, that is not how it played out. While the movement gave those with mental illness more rights and turned society away from locking them up, it released some that would have benefitted from long-term care that community centers could not provide. However, with many patients moving out of long-term treatment facilities, many of these facilities were shutting down. This left community mental health centers to try to treat illnesses they were not originally intended to. Another issue arose when insufficient funding was allocated for the community mental health centers, further overwhelming the new system. Because the difficulty of the transition from institutionalization to community care was underestimated, many—then and today—have gone without treatment. The lack of treatment for serious mental illness, like Schizophrenia, has led to the incarceration of many people with mental illness who should instead be treated.
Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity
Another issue that has contributed to the criminalization of mental illness is the difference between the clinical definition of mental illness and the legal definition. The diagnosis of mental illness is dictated by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The law, however, sees mental illness as symptoms that impair mental functioning. The main diagnoses that fits into the legal definition are psychotic disorders, such as Schizophrenia. Even if someone has been diagnosed with a psychotic disorder, when pleading not guilty by reasoning of insanity, their lawyer must show that they were having symptoms at the time of the crime that contributed to said crime. This can be a difficult task as some states require that the symptoms are so severe that the defendant didn’t know that the crime was illegal. Even in cases where the defendant has shown this to be true, some juries will give a verdict of guilty to ensure that someone is held accountable for the offense.
Some states have gotten rid of the insanity plea altogether, while others have changed it to “guilty because of mental illness” meaning after treatment, they must serve their sentence in prison. This can sometimes put the progress a patient has made in jeopardy, as prisons are not a suitable environment for maintaining a newly achieved healthy mental state. In states where not guilty by reason of insanity is still in effect, those found not guilty by reason of insanity are supposed to be released after sanity has been restored. Yet, this is rarely the case; due to fear they will go off their medicine and commit the same violent crimes, many are held in treatment facilities indefinitely. With the threat of this outcome overhead, many opt out of the not guilty by reason of insanity plea and are instead place into a prison where they will not receive the appropriate care.
Because of the law’s strict definition of mental illness, many are being placed in already crowded, underfunded prisons. Because of the lack of mental health professionals, prisoners in some states, including Nebraska, may not receive medications for mental illnesses or have access to talk to counselors. This can cause the reemergence of once-controlled symptoms, making the prisoner with a mental illness a danger not only to himself, but also to others. Additionally, many with severe mental illness are put in solitary confinement for long periods of time. Psychologists who have studied the effects of solitary confinement have seen a pattern of increased mental health problems in people who were originally neurotypical. If this is true, the effects on prisoners with mental illness could be devastating. Not only are people being sent to prison when they should receive treatment, they are also being put in situations that make their symptoms worse and make it harder to reenter into society if their sentence allows.
Substance Use Criminalization
In addition to violent crimes committed because of mental illness, many nonviolent acts associated with mental illness are criminalized; Substance Use Disorders are recognized by the DSM V and are therefore diagnosable and treatable, but the law instead criminalizes it. While at any given time there are more convictions for violent crimes, more people are sent to prison a year for drug-related crimes than violent crimes. Studies have shown that those imprisoned for drug-use are unlikely to receive treatment and often return to using drugs once released because they lack the resources that treatment would have given them. Sending people with Substance Abuse Disorders to jail does not improve their illness.
Not only those with Substance abuse disorder are affected by this criminalization; those diagnosed with another mental illness are five to eighteen times more likely to have a comorbid Substance Use Disorder. This can further prevent someone who needs treatment from receiving it. Most prisons don’t have adequate resources to treat prisoners with mental illness, so imprisoning people for crimes that are directly tied to mental illness can be detrimental to their treatment and future.
Some states are trying to combat the increasing proportion of prisoners with mental illness not receiving treatment. With our corrections system slowly catching up with our understanding of mental illness, states—like California—are beginning to consider replacing their old jails, not with new ones exactly like them, but instead with centers focused on rehabilitation. They are not calling for moving all criminals with mental illness out of prisons, but instead treating those with mental illness while they serve their sentence. Additionally, they do want to increase the diversion from jails, but that will be done on a case-by-case basis and only for those who have committed a crime because of mental illness.
Ultimately, the criminalization of mental illness has a lot to do with the stigma surrounding it. The general population connects mental illness with violence, which leads to harsher punishments. As a society, we need to reduce stigma before any change can happen. If we continue to see those with mental health problems as inherently violent, they will continue to be prosecuted and sentenced unjustly.
What would you do if you felt like the whole world was on your shoulders before you were even old enough to vote? Many children have faced this exact question, some of which have been acknowledged for their extraordinary efforts to make the world a better place. Malala Yousafzai. Greta Thunberg. Emma González and David Hogg. These are only few from a long list of young activists who have made great sacrifices in hopes of creating a better future for themselves and future generations.
For many, seeing children give up so much for something they are passionate about is greatlymotivating. Children’swillingness to put themselves at risk for the greater good often makeadults feel like they should be doing more to make a difference or that they have been underestimating the problem the entire time.
That being said, why should children have to make sacrifices in order to convince adults to change? Should the burden of change ever be placed on a child’s shoulders?
Why do they feel the need to get involved?
When discussing this issue, it is important that we consider what is causing so many young people to feel the need to take on the serious responsibilities that come with activism. It may speak to the severity of an issue when the members of society with the least responsibilities for the problems we face are the ones leading the charge for progress or, possibly, because they are the ones dealing the brunt of the impact of change.
Greta Thunberg, a sixteen-year-old environmental activist, skips school on Fridays in order to “protest outside Swedish parliament buildings, pressuring the government to pass legislation that would reduce carbon emissions in line with the Paris Agreement”. These efforts interfere with her right to an education which is recognized in Article 26 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child).When asked about her message for world leaders at the UN Climate Action Summit, said, “You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.”
Personal Connections to the Issue
For many child activists, their membership in a community that is particularly or uniquely impacted by an issue contributes to their involvement whether it is by participation or choice. Consider the activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Their activism began as a response to their experiences as survivors of a school shooting. Many of the activists have attributed much of their drive for promoting gun-reform to their feeling that adults are not doing enough (or are even making the problem worse). Cameron Kasky, an 11th grader at the school, said, “The adults know that we are cleaning up their mess.” Emma González added onto this, stating, “It’s like they’re saying, ‘I’m sorry I made this mess,’ while continuing to spill soda on the floor.”
In other cases, children carrying the burden of change are from marginalized groups who are disproportionately impacted by a given issue. Malala Yousafzai grew up in Pakistan, where her father was a teacher who ran a school for girls. In 2008, the Taliban overtook the town she lived in and put many harsh restrictions in place, one of which was declaring that girls could no longer attend school. Yousafzai spoke out against this and in support of girls’ right to an education(which is recognized as a right in Article 10 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women). In 2012, at the age of 16, Malala was shot in the head by a masked gunman in response to her activism. She knew that speaking out was dangerous but took the risk, because she knew, firsthand, how girls are affected when refused their right to an education.
Children should not have to lead the fights for their own rights and well-being, especially when it involves risking their lives.
One way in which heavy involvement in efforts for change has been harmful for children is the way people who disagreeoften begin to treat them. While Ruby Bridges was not an activist at the time, she still faced serious backlash when she became the first African American to attend a school that had previously only enrolled white students. Throughout her first year at her new school, there were mobs of people in front of the building every day protesting her attendance. People were angrily pointing and shouting at her as she was escorted into school every day. In an interview for NPR, she shared that some people would bring a baby-sized coffin with a black doll inside, and she would have to walk by it every day. This frightened her so much it gave her nightmares. She was simply a little girl going to school, but it was as if people stopped seeing her that way.
With the rise of social media in recent years, children who are part of social change or activism are more aware of people’s responses to themthan ever before. Some adults, angered by the actions of these children for one reason or another, flock to websites like Twitter to air their grievances, seemingly without any consideration for how their words might impact the children involved. As her work has become more well-known,Greta Thunberghas faced much cruelty from adults.In August, Thunberg was traveling across the Atlantic Ocean on a high-tech racing yacht (to decrease her contributions to greenhouse emissions) to spread awareness of climate change. Arron Banks, multimillionaire and co-founder of Leave.EU, tweeted her picture with the caption, “Freak yachting accidents do happen in August…”. Others have mocked her for having Asperger’s syndrome or for displaying its symptoms.
How do we deal with this issue? It is not so simple as to say that kids should be kept out of political conversations altogether. Many children live with certain aspects of their lives that require political conversations. If a child’s parents are a same-sex couple, the parents need to be able to talk to their child about the way some people treat the LGBTQ+ community. This conversation cannot be had without at least some political themes. People of color need to be able to talk to their children about certain topics which are considered political in order help keep them safe.
These conversations should not be limited to parents and children who are directly impacted by political issues. Children with privilege should not be kept ignorant of these serious issues, as gaining knowledge about marginalized groupscan help them develop empathy. Additionally, children who are impacted by political issues should not be alone whenhaving to face the difficulties of learning about these issues.
It is also important to recognize that exposure to conversations about political issues at an early age can lead to increased political engagement as an adult. Hearing their parents/guardians talk about different topics communicates to children (whether directly or indirectly) that these issues matter and have value. Political discourse that highlights the importance of such issues can, therefore, teach children to value political engagement.
One thing that we can do is spread awareness about how heavy participation in political activism can impact children, particularly their mental health. We can hold ourselves and our peers accountable for the things we say online(or in-person), hopefully decreasing the amount of mocking and bullying that children experience through the actions of adults. We can also respond to their cries for action by working toward progressive social change so thatthey do not have to do our job for us.
This blog uses direct quotes from survivors that may be explicit for some readers.
What is Sex Trafficking?
The U.S. Department of State defines sex trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, provision, or the obtaining of a person for a commercial sex act. The commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, where the survivors are pushed to perform such acts while under 18 years of age”. Sexual trafficking relies heavily on the control of the victim’s vulnerability. According to the Trafficking Hotline, about 10,949 cases of human trafficking were reported in the year 2018 alone. Among those cases, 7,859 account for sex trafficking (approximately 71.78%). Those who are survivors of human trafficking report experiencing severe cases of abuse and extortion sex practices. As a result, these individuals’ lives are continuously exposed to physical and sexual trauma.
So how does sex trafficking occur? After individuals are lured by their traffickers, victims are absorbed into the underground and uncontrolled sectors of the economy where wage, health, and safety law violations routinely happen. In these sectors, individuals are hooked into prostitution, pornography, and other forms of the commercial sex industry. Those who have survived human trafficking explain how hard it is to escape the trafficker. For example, in an interview with Kristina Kuzmic, Oree describes her experiences as a victim of human trafficking,
Warning Explicit Content.
“And he grabbed me by my hair and drugged me down the street. My knees was scraping the floor. There was other women out there, nobody did anything. When you have been forced to sleep with 7 to 15 men and be raped and be 11 years old, I was like slowly dying. And after the first night, you suppress those feelings because any inch of hope that you have, any sense of “I can get out,” any feeling of “There’s a God,” any feeling of “I don’t deserve this,” you get beat, You ain’t going to survive out there. By the time I was 12 years old within a year, I was already raped over 4,000 times.”
In Oree’s case, she explains that she was not able to get away from her trafficker until a man named Jim Carson came to her rescue when she was 14 years old. In her interview, Oree emphasizes, “It was never a choice. It’s not a choice for these kids…they are children whose dreams and innocence was stolen and snatched from them.” Regardless of the form of their exploitation, trafficked victims suffer extreme abuse that often results in physical and mental trauma.
Traffickers use various means, such as pregnancy, to coerce trafficked victims, This ensures that the individual is emotionally bound and remains dependent on the trafficker to meet her own and her child’s needs. In an interview, Rebecca Bender, another survivor of sex trafficking narrates her experiences as follows,
“When you have a trafficker that’s at home with your child and says, if you don’t bring home $1500, you’re going to find your daughter out on the corner. I think I was probably more frightened to go home than I was to be in the room because if you got robbed, it was your fault for being stupid. If you get raped, it was your fault for not watching your back. Anything that happened to you was typically your fault, and you incurred more punishment for allowing these things to happen.”
Trafficked victims, like Bender, often blame themselves for their situation, therefore making it even harder for them to escape their traffickers. Some other reasons victims find it hard to leave include:
Threats of violence against the victim’s family and loved ones.
Traffickers requiring their victims to repay all debt (real or not real) before they can be liberated.
Traffickers manipulate victims to believe they love them.
Victims may be unfamiliar with the language of the country they are in and often do not know how to get around.
Prolonged captivity has been found to cause psychological trauma and contribute to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is because traffickers instill psychological trauma through terror, helplessness, and continuous destruction of the victim’s self-esteem. Constant death threats and physical abuse, followed by inconsistent and unpredictable outbursts of violence, results in significant mental health consequences for trafficked victims. For PTSD, symptoms either present themselves within the first three months after a traumatic event or can go for months to years without showing any symptoms, making it harder to detect and diagnose. In addition to PTSD, victims of human trafficking have been found to suffer from other anxiety and mood disorders, including panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and major depressive disorder. There is also an increased risk for the development of dissociative disorders.
Substance abuse disorder is also at the top of the list. While some victims of trafficking may report prior substance addictions, the majority of victims who reported alcohol and drug use said they began using drugs after they were in their trafficking situations. Other victims report being forced into drugs by their traffickers or using drugs as a coping mechanism.
Language barriers and transportation issues may hinder adequate treatment. Service providers express that clients who speak other languages have difficulty receiving care or even seeking care. More importantly, transportation barriers may result in missing appointments, which interferes with treatment. When looking at language, culture also plays a role. Just because someone speaks the same language as the victim, does not necessarily mean that services offered will be culturally appropriate. While speaking the same language as clients can help with service provision, other pieces of one’s culture are often overlooked. For example, some cultures may require that women only see women providers, and therefore it becomes difficult when the only provider available is male. In addition, some victims may also fear talking about their experiences because of fear of stigma and shame. Traumatic events may also affect the memories and may negatively influence the individual’s ability to recall events. Lastly, longer wait times for psychotherapy and funding cuts continue to be a challenge to both mental healthcare professionals and patients.
I believe it is important to offer trafficking-specific training to professionals. This will help increase awareness of trafficking as well as inform the staff of available resources. Acknowledging the gender of patients when writing out assessments is also important because it will lead to better practice by providing more treatment options for victims. There is also the need to examine both social and psychological factors when responding to mental health needs. This will help improve communication between services as well as offer more insight into what type of treatment one should receive. Furthermore, there is a need for more research to help explore the ways in which healthcare professionals identify victims and determine what kind of care one receives. This will allow for the generalization of mental health practices and procedures into other disciplines. While there is still plenty to improve, it is important to note that there is work being done to enhance the mental health care of trafficked individuals.
The information above does not fully cover what victims of human trafficking experience before, during, and after they escape their traffickers. If you see something suspicious, call the Blue Campaign with your tip and be sure to include the car tag and vehicle description.
Far too often popular media, particularly horror movies, paint people with disabilities as monsters. Scary movies are notorious for taking completely real health conditions and distorting them into what appears inevitably dangerous. In some cases, they create villainous characters with physical appearances that are seen as abnormal based on real conditions that have physically visible symptoms, like acromegaly. In others, they create characters based on real mental health conditions, like dissociative identity disorder, and depict them as if they have the powers and the thirst for evil of a comic book super-villain. These dangerously inaccurate depictions of disabilities dehumanize entire groups of people in one fell swoop, often without any clear recognition from the creators of the damage they have done.
Acromegaly in Gerald’s Game
In Stephen King’s novel and film Gerald’s Game, Raymond Andrew Joubert is a graverobber, necrophiliac, and serial killer. He is also a character with acromegaly, a disorder that occurs when too much growth hormone is produced due to benign tumors (adenomas) on the pituitary gland. Acromegaly is associated with many serious health problems, such as type II diabetes, high blood pressure, an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and, if not treated, even death. The most visible and easily recognized symptoms of the condition are unusual growth of hands and feet, a protruding brow bone and lower jaw, an enlarged nose, and teeth that have spaced out. The condition does not make a person any more dangerous than any other. It seems that King only chose to create this character with this condition because of the physical appearance that is associated with it. This is a problem, because it perpetuates the common, preexisting belief that people who look different from what is deemed “normal” are dangerous and should be feared.
With the right lighting and camera angles, anyone could look terrifying. There is no reason to use people with real health conditions in a way that only makes life and society’s understanding of them more difficult.
Dissociative Identity Disorder
Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is one of many mental health conditions that has experienced significant harm due to failed representation in the media. It is far too common to find that fictional media depictions of DID lack any presentation of the true facts of the disorder. The Entropy System is a DID system who posts educational videos about DID on YouTube. Their series on DID in the Media does a thorough job at analyzing the quality of different examples of representation of DID in films. They use four main criteria in assessing each work.
First, does it “communicate proper diagnosis and treatment”? Many attempted depictions of DID fail to even name the disorder accurately and call it “Multiple Personality Disorder”, its name prior to 1994. These works also often suggest that all systems (the collective term for one’s alters/identities) with DID are working towards the same goal with their treatment: to integrate all the identities into one. Some systems are not interested in integrating. The Entropy System points out in many of their videos that an important part of treatment, regardless of the system’s level of interest in integration, is establishing strong communication between the different alters.
Second, does the work address the cause of DID? The disorder is a result of repetitive, severe trauma that occurs during childhood. According to the theory of Structural Dissociation, no person is born with a fully integrated personality. This means that, when we are children, we are made up of multiple individual personalities or “ego-states,” which integrate and become a single personality between the ages of six and nine. Each of these ego-states is responsible for performing a different role. DID occurs when trauma prevents these ego-states from integrating. The ego-states develop into individual identities known as alters.
Third, are the alters shown as part of a unit, or as extra bits for a central/main identity? It is important to recognize that no single alter is more real or significant that any of the others. They are all parts of the same whole.
Fourth, is the character relatable? Are all the alters well-rounded and realistic?
DID in the Media
One of the most common and most serious misconceptions that the horror genre frequently perpetuates about DID is the idea that there is such a thing as a “bad alter.” Within a DID system, each alter has a role that it performs to help protect the person with DID. One alter is responsible for day-to-day living, while another might be responsible for holding on to certain trauma memories that would make day to day living extremely difficult. One alter, called a persecutor, may mimic abusers or other people who have caused trauma to the system in an attempt to keep the system from re-experiencing the abuse. When horror movies depict a person with DID as being dangerous to others, they typically do so with a severe misrepresentation of what persecutor-alters are and what they do. The vast-majority of the time, if persecutors cause harm, it is towards the person with DID themselves and not other people. DissociaDID, another system that posts education videos about DID on YouTube, has a videothat is helpful in understanding alter roles, persecutors, and how they function within a DID system.
Films like Split and Glass are extremely harmful to the DID community, because they glamorize the idea of a “bad alter” and depict people with DID as being villains or monsters, which is far from the truth. These two movies involve a character with DID named Kevin Wendell Crumb, who has a bad alter named “The Beast” that has super-human abilities and wants to get rid of the “impure” people of the world. In Split, the other alters in the system kidnap girls and watch over them until The Beast comes out. To say that DID is depicted in an unrealistic way is quite an understatement.
For many people in the general population, their only exposure to disorders such as DID is through the media. When so much of the representation is riddled with harmful, fear-inducing inaccuracies, people who see that representation start to view people with those disorders in real life as being inherently dangerous or violent. This is whyquality and accurate representation is so important.
The Connection to Human Rights
As we continue to push for more representation in popular media for marginalized communities, we must also make sure that that representation is accurate and not harmful to those communities. When horror movies use people with disabilities in their attempts to scare their audience, they create/reinforce a belief that people with these disabilities in the real world are dangerous and scary. This is a human rights issue, because prejudice, discrimination, and violence are fueled by fear. Fear impacts who parents will let their children play with, and how children treat their classmates. This can interfere with one’s access to their right to an education, which is established in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Fear affects how we interact with people we pass by on the street and people’s willingness to help find ways to improve people’s life experiences. This can impede one’s access to their right to be an active part of their community (Article 27) and their right to seek employment and have favorable working conditions (Article 23).
Non-disabled people need to use the privilege they have to advocate for those without it, and a person is less likely to want to advocate for someone who they are afraid of. In order to have the basic human rights of all people fulfilled, we need to all be able to look at each other as members of humanity, and fear, especially unjustified fear, inhibits that.
I’m not going to lie or try to pretend that I have never let these kinds of portrayals of people with disabilities change the way I look at them. Thankfully, I know better now, but there are still moments where I catch myself briefly slipping back into old ways of thinking. It is important that we as consumers of media recognize the harm that these failed representations of an already marginalized group have caused and that we do our best to avoid supporting them monetarily. We need to increase awareness of this harm, in hopes that, one day, the horror genre will no longer be made up of so many destructive stereotypes.
Rather than the same stereotypically use of people with disabilities as the antagonists in film, why not increase their representations as protagonists? Imagine, a horror movie where the protagonist is a person with DID, whose alters all work together to survive while also dealing with the memory loss that often comes with the switching of identities. The film A Quiet Place is a brilliant example of positive and constructive disability representation. One of the main characters is a young deaf girl, and her disability ends up saving her family. In a world where making noise is a deadly act, their knowledge of sign language allowed them to communicate without risking their lives. This is in complete opposition of the stereotypical idea that people with disabilities are burdensome for their loved one. The makers of the film clearly did their research and were able to help spark important conversations about disability representation.
Maternity leave is necessary because it helps with postpartum depression
In the United States, maternity leave is almost non-existent. New parents in the U.S. get an average of three months of maternity leave, and some only get the twelve unpaid weeks of leave that employers are now required to offer under the Family Medical Leave Act. https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/benefits-leave/fmla Depending on where you work and how long you’ve worked for a company, you may not receive any paid maternity leave at all, which can cause a high level of stress for low-income parents and families. According to a study at the University of Maryland, longer maternity leave decreases the risk of postpartum depression. It’s suggested that this is because women can spend more time with their infants, and this is not surprising; if you don’t have the bonding time with your child that you need, it’s going to be depressing for you. You feel like you have to leave your child preemptively, and that’s not fair. Healthcare providers and policymakers need to think about how we can foster a more positive experience with maternity leave and help women get the care that they need. It’s essential that we think about maternity leave as being a preventative measure for postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression is serious
Postpartum depression is a severe mental health condition. Many women go undiagnosed with this mental illness because they unknowingly downplay their emotions to their mental health providers or general practitioners. Postpartum depression is a severe condition, and it needs immediate attention from a medical provider. It’s normal to be emotional after having a baby. But, there’s a difference between feeling down and having PPD. When you have a baby, it’s a huge life transition. You’re now responsible for taking care of a new life. Many moms have a difficult time with this change, and if you’re feeling overwhelmed, sad, or a variety of emotions after giving birth, that’s understandable. It’s when your feelings feel out of control that you need to worry whether or not you have Postpartum Depression. We’ll go over the symptoms of the condition, and you’ll see if you relate to them.
Postpartum Depression is not the baby blues
Postpartum depression is not just “the baby blues,” which affects up to 80% of new mothers. Postpartum depression affects childbearing individuals more severely. When you have PPD, it makes it nearly impossible to function. You feel severely depressed, hopeless, and scared. When a baby is born, you can have extremely intense emotions as a mother, which are frequently caused by changes in your hormone levels. Hormones make your experiences feel more powerful than they would ordinarily. You may be prone to crying or insomnia that occurs even after your baby is asleep, for example. Symptoms that can be considered part of the “baby blues” include mood swings, irritability, anxiety, and trouble sleeping. Postpartum depression, on the other hand, is a diagnosable disorder that exists as a potential side effect of giving birth. Unlike the baby blues, which is categorized by minor dips in mood, postpartum depression can be severely debilitating. Postpartum depression requires treatment, so if you have this condition or think that you might have it, don’t ignore it.
Symptoms of postpartum depression
The symptoms of Postpartum depression leave a mother feeling like she can’t cope with everyday life. You may be wondering what they are. The signs and symptoms of postpartum depression include severe mood swings, depression or depressed mood, feeling overwhelmed, not being able to sleep, feeling hopeless, fearing that you aren’t a good mother, restlessness, severe anxiety, inability to focus or think clearly, feeling worthless, thoughts of death or suicide, and intrusive, disturbing thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.
Postpartum psychosis is another condition to look out for and seek treatment if you think you have it. With postpartum psychosis, you may experience excessive thoughts about the baby, hallucinations or delusions, excessive energy or agitation, paranoia, and self-harm. If you believe that yourself or a loved one is experiencing postpartum psychosis, it’s vital that you seek treatment immediately.
What can we do as a society?
We need to take a stand as a society to help new mothers, and if we can prevent Postpartum depression, One of the things that we can do to help new mothers is to advocate for longer maternity leaves. Allowing new mothers to spend more time with their babies can prevent postpartum depression. In a society that’s so focused on productivity and getting back to work, one of the most important things that we can do to prevent postpartum depression is to push for employees to offer additional time for maternity leave. We want to spend time with our children; that’s only natural. If we’re not able to do that, of course, we’re more likely to experience postpartum depression, but it’s important to note that no new parent is immune to developing it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s not your fault. Certain risk factors, such as family history or personal history of mood disorders, financial problems, unwanted pregnancy, and more, can increase a person’s likelihood of developing postpartum depression.
Getting help for postpartum depression
If you feel that you may have postpartum depression or if you’ve been experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression for over two weeks, it’s essential to schedule an appointment to talk to your doctor. Treatment for postpartum depression most often includes medication, if you need it, and most importantly, therapy. You can choose to see a traditional therapist or work with online therapy. New mothers can have the added challenge of trying to get out of the house, making it hard to get mental health treatment. Online therapy provides a forum to get therapy in the privacy of your home. A new mother may not have the energy to get out of the house to go to therapy. Online therapy can be an excellent resource for new mothers to get mental health treatment, prevent PPD or treat it. You can see a counselor with your partner or has individual therapy. Whatever your preference, it’s essential to seek treatment for PPD.
Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health-related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.
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