Mental Health and Decolonization
Oct 4 (13 days ago)

to me
Since writing down some thoughts on the topic of activism and radical mental health, I’ve thought a considerable amount about the words we use to discuss the liberation of the human heart and mind.
The word “decolonization” has come up in essays about what, specifically, is being attempted when we seek to redefine our selves and lives on the basis of our own inclination and our own meaning. Decolonization is an apt term, in that it speaks to the process of abandoning external impositions and dismantling the oppressive frameworks of idea, symbol, and action that place us in particular roles and strata as determined those who’ve assumed  (by force or coercion) the right to tell us who we are, what we are worth, what we need and where we might best belong.
Though colonization is often thought of as imperialistic actions, the usurping of habitat, resource, and humanity for the purpose of profit, power, and influence, it is accurate to say (as Fanon and others have) that colonization is a state of mind and heart, as well, extending beyond the building of ports, the mechanics of abusive exchange and the economies of active exploitation.
History tells us that in order for a people to be widely and effectively colonized they must be frightened and threatened into a submissive and compliant state. They must turn from their own best interests of life and liberty and devote their energies toward maintaining their own submissive role in the brutal world bestowed upon them. They must heed their oppressors, their rapists, the killers of their land and the takers of their past and futures.
Often, this compliance is achieved through sheer ultraviolence and the manipulation of fear and meaning.

I’m lucky to have not known violence as many people in the world have known it. I’ve never watched my village burn. I’ve never seen bombs fall or my loved ones in front of a firing squad.

Still, I have known violence in my life. I have seen it and I have been hurt by it. I have watched things get destroyed and seen people bleed. I’ve seen sacred land destroyed.
Nonetheless, it is, I must say, very easy for me – in my relatively safe and privileged life – to sit here and write about things such as colonization and liberation, never having been a part of a people that were…
…wait a second. That’s not exactly true. I am a woman. I survived the psychiatric system. I am an American.
The colonizers become colonized themselves. In fact, in many ways – depending on what we invest our belief and energies into – we colonize ourselves, turning our humanity into the hands of systems and cultures that deny humanity, so that those systems may thrive while we, in heart and mind, wither, loving the approval, trinkets and enticements of our colonizers more than we love one another and our shared home.
More even, than we love ourselves.
It is no wonder that so many people are experiencing mental disorders, particularly depression and anxiety, which are disorders of the heart as well as of the mind. Fear and grief, hopelessness and worry. These are side effects of colonization.
Thus, in my thinking about mental health and activism, I think that there must be some clarification of what exactly I’m speaking of. Am I discussing the “safe and effective” “management” of “mental disorders”…?
In my mind, “mental health” is rapidly, as so many words have, becoming a useless phrase. It means less and less. In the language of the people that seek to define what mental health is and isn’t, and who’ve assumed the authority to do so, it often means “the presence of a mental disorder.”
Mental health is only something that people who might have mental disorders have to think about.
Further, “mental health” indicates a “health” concern only pertaining to one’s “mental” – it says nothing of one’s heart, or one’s spirit, or one’s story.
I am more interested in words that capture what it is we are really talking about here. Words like humanity.
When I speak about recovery lately I say a lot about regaining and a great deal about healing. I use words like liberation and re-framing. I talk about reclamation.
I say quite a bit about ideas.
Such as, for example, the idea that a person who experiences the world in a way that is challenging for the status quo to understand, appreciate, or make use of is somehow “ill.” Or the idea that those who fail to achieve normalcy by a particular age must be “modified” or “treated” in order to diminish their appearance of difference. If the difference is severe and persistent, it must be monitored and intervened upon at regular intervals.
If the person fights back, or grieves their state of difference, if the person reacts to harm done to them, they are forced to comply. In fact, compliance becomes more important than life itself.
Which brings us back to colonization and decolonization. When systems of power use force, coercion, manipulation, intimidation and technology to control a person or population, when they tell you what you are and what you are not worth, when they punish you if you fail to meet their expectations or abide by their rules, those systems are engaging in colonialism of the heart, mind, and body.
Sadly, they profit from such endeavors and thus our pain becomes their gain. In fact, their gain relies upon our pain. The systems cannot survive without us and so they must lead us to believe that we cannot survive without them…that we will perish without them, that we might die. If we do not believe them, or if we resist, they ensure our compliance with restraints and if we continue to struggle, we are maimed. This goes on until we die or they kill us.
Keep in mind that death is figurative as well as actual. We can die inside. It happens everyday. We also can be made to become functionally dead, obsolete and excluded from culture, economy, relegated to the role of unfortunate extra in the scenes of collective public.
Outcasting is an old trick in social control. They’ve been doing it for years to those who might make the edges a little messy.

Dear President Obama,

I’d like to take a moment and let you know how disappointed I was that you chose to bring the phrase ‘mental illness’ into a discussion on gun control. The following statement is rampantly irresponsible and contributes mightily to the culture of intolerance that ultimately feeds all violence:

“So my belief is that, (A), we have to enforce the laws we’ve already got, make sure that we’re keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, those who are mentally ill. We’ve done a much better job in terms of background checks, but we’ve got more to do when it comes to enforcement.”

By making statements such as this you are perpetuating a very ugly myth, that those who have mental health difficulties are somehow dangerous, perhaps even prone to criminal or violent acts. It is unfortunate that legal loopholes such as the “insanity plea” have contributed to a distortion of what it means to struggle with one’s human experience. It does not mean that one is dangerous or out of control. In fact, statistically, as I’m sure has been made abundantly clear to you, people with mental health diagnoses are far more likely to be the victims of violent crime than they are to be the perpetrators of such crimes.

By making statements such as the ones you made in last night’s debate, which will be unfortunately recorded in this country’s history, you have contributed mightily to the stigma and misunderstanding that afflicts the lives of millions of Americans.

In addition to educating yourself on the reality of mental health disorder in this country, it is imperative that you not only apologize, but that you speak with leaders in the conscientious mental health movement about other ways that struggle with one’s human condition may be considered and healed.


Faith R. Rhyne ‘Mental illness’ not an explanation for violence Accused Trayvon Martin Killer was Previously Prescribed Adderall Prozac-like drug Luvox was being taken by teenager responsible for Littleton Columbine High School. Dr. P. Breggin ‘Mentally ill’ at high risk of being victims of violence


…and I still think about what they mean.


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