Koreo Prize 2017 Submission
This is a collection of stories about how moral judgement, inequalities, and mental health intersect in modern British society. The issue centres on the use of shame in the context of mental health problems. This isn’t just about stigma or gaslighting; it’s an issue that’s hard to pin down, and that currently has no name.
The stories here are real, and will hopefully provide some initial insight into the ways in which shame is used as a weapon against the discloser, in spite of their privileges. These privileges are what enable awareness to be brought to this issue — the issue is only raised because the storytellers have the platform to do so. Where the storytellers can offer only their own perspectives, stories will be told in a range of formats. I hope this approach to identifying, describing and recording the issue is engaging enough to earn it a greater platform in future months. That would help to get the issue critiqued, discussed, acknowledged.
It should be noted that all of the characters within the stories would view themselves as liberal ‘feminists’. Many are in positions of professional authority within educational institutions, the workplace or the mental health profession.
Recommendation: this instagram account.
CN: dating, being female, mental health, trauma, shaming.
Is it possible to conform to the reductive appeals to ‘safety’, ‘politeness’ and ‘constructiveness’ and truly discuss this issue? Or do these only bolster a conspiracy of silence that already exists around the issue?
When academia is sexist and ableist, the only leverage we have is our body. When we deny our bodies to those who see it as rightfully theirs, this can only be an exhibition of a problem with us. Mental health disorders are a useful weapon for people wishing to manipulate, because its possible we could exhibit symptoms without realising, so there is no defence against such an accusation.
This is a story about that time when you finally asked for help with writing the article you’re hoping to publish in order to help your PhD funding application. Or maybe when you accepted help from a friend (Peter) with more experience than you who is male as your writing is criticised as ‘too female’, ‘hesitant’ and generally like its come from someone who might have a lot of self-doubt from a lifetime of disability and being a woman. He assures you they know how to write an article that gets taken seriously, even if it is by a woman!
But then soon enough, he starts expecting you to become more than just a friend in return.
When you say you’re uncomfortable with their requests for you to stay over at theirs all the time, they get angry about it. And because you have SAD and anxiety you become more distant with them over the winter. And then when they get angry about that and you explain about the SAD they then get you a light box for Christmas.
But then they say you have to send it back if you’re still not willing to sleep with them in exchange.
When you point out that they’re not acting like much of a friend they tell you you’re a psychopath.
When you’re diagnosed with anaemia which explains why you felt so exhausted all the time and don’t go to their event which would start at 9:30pm because you are guaranteed to be very much asleep by then, but then by checking your phone overnight you reveal that this was in fact all a fabrication and that in reality you’re clearly a “compulsive liar”…
When you end up blocking them on WhatsApp for your own self-care and they still can’t see that this is a decision you yourself have made because of their behaviour.
It is a well-known and long-established fact about our society that people with mental health problems are likely to experience stigma and shame. From the supposed liberal bastions of the prestigious Universities of Oxford and Cambridge to any space or institution you care to name, mental illness is met with at best an awkward shrug and at worst active stigmatisation, blame, and humiliation. This is coloured by a host of other factors including, though not limited to: race, gender, class, sexual orientation. Two striking examples illustrate this last point very clearly. For one, queerness is often seen to go hand-in-hand with a certain sense of personal and mental affliction. A thorough-going critique of the political status quo that generates this situation is rarely provided, leaving queer people further alienated and stigmatised. For another, mental illness has for a long time been characterised as a trendy complaint amongst (mostly white) middle-class young people, such that the more complicated questions of what it means to be mentally ill — say, what it means to be black and mentally ill, or a Hispanic lesbian and mentally ill — remain either under-represented or utterly ignored.
Asking for support at Oxbridge:
Given the nature of shame, its hard to find examples that are relevant and yet which storytellers feel willing and able to share online. However there are still many more items to come. Thus this is a growing work.