Have you ever wondered why survivor knowledge is ignored or considered unreliable? Or, have you ever considered people who have experienced trauma as being a mad, or doubted their credibility? Maybe you have felt uncomfortable with them sharing Have you ever felt that abusive behaviour might be a form of mental illness?
When I talk about survivors, I mean someone who have survived quite traumatic things and periods. I have been thinking about this, how books such as Searching for a Rose Garden: challenging psychiatry, fostering mad studies show that Survivor knowledge show that survivor knowledge has consistently been devalued, ignored, and pathologised. Pathologised means when it is regarded or treated as psychologically abnormal. It seems all a bit to convenient to me, for people who actually - more than anyone - understand oppressive and power dynamics are then immediately discounted from having a 'reliable', 'objective' and 'sensible' opinion.
The idea that from trauma people are somehow all of a sudden seen as 'mad', 'disturbed' and untrustworthy, is something that we all need to question. When I have looked very intensly at anti-psychiatry, mad studies and mental health policy, what comes up is that these different mental landscapes are not mad at all. They are absolutely fair enough, and they are much more complex than just being negative like our culture would have us believe. For example, voice hearers often hear voices because of extreme trauma (or they can simply be born with this experience) and they can learn to navigate the voices so that they are actually complementing their life (for more information, check out Eleanor Longden).
Many who express difficulties after trauma are then put into bxes which calls their mental landscapes wrong and incorrect, such as 'mental illness'. For example, with regard to myself, there is at least 7 nouns that I can think of that I can be put into. This, however, is not accurate, it is not sophisticated enough. We have transplanted a medical model of health onto the mind - which it is not equipped for. New frameworks are being officially recognised because of this problem, such as the Power, Threat, Meaning Framework which aims to problematise the diagnostic manual and to highlight that actually, these things are understandable responses to abuse of power and have important meanings, as I showed above with the voice hearing experiences. Of course, I'm not saying that struggling psychologically is all daisies are roses. Mental distress which is something that needs to be addressed, however, very simplistic notions of so-called 'mental illness' which are used to describe any mind that isn't considered 'normal' (also made up) and is still extremely out of date - and not only that but is actually making the mental distress worse.
If we think about psychological responses to trauma: these are very reasonable responses to unreasonable circumstances. When someone is called 'mentally ill', their perspective and their experiences are immediately cancelled out. They are devalued and seen as 'not reliable'. However, I would like to take issue with this mainstream norm, as it seems all too convenient to use mental illness as a scapegoat and is a way to individualise these issues, which actually leads to a culture where we blame the survivor, and it means we not address the wider power dynamics at play. Although I disagree with the binary notions of 'mental wellness' and 'mental illness, if we are going to have the terms - why on earth don't we consider abusive behaviours such as misogyny, racism, etc, as forms of of mental illness? If we are going to have them, shouldn't they address behaviours that cause huge amounts of trauma to people?
As Hannah Gadsby says: "I know what some of you are thinking. Misogyny - is that a mental illness? *Laughs*. Uh yeah. YEAH it is. Because if you hate what you desire, do you know what that is? Fucking tense!'
When survivors of violence come out, one of the first thing that is discussed at length and really considered is whether or not they are lying. Their credibility is immediately doubted. Their truthfulness. This is steeped in so much messed up history which I can go into another time. My main point here is: the evidence shows that this proportion is VERY small. Believe me, from a someone who is a survivor, it is not something people are going to bother lying about. The risk for themselves and their loved ones is too great - especially considering the people who harm women and femmes the most is their loved ones. This is all while the actual ABUSIVE BEHAVIOUR is comparatively much less scrutinised.
"Research for the Home Office suggests that only 4% of cases of sexual violence reported to the UK police are found or suspected to be false. Studies carried out in Europe and in the US indicate rates of between 2% and 6%." - The Conversation
That is why when someone comes to me with an experience that they've had, I believe them. This is why I urge readers to also believe what people say. They might not even want to take things further, because the system does not provide support in helpful ways, they may want someone just to listen. Or, they may want to take things further. The odds are too stacked up against people who come forward for them to bother to do so unless it is true. So please, let's stop doubting the credibility of survivors and examine the actual abusive behaviour that they have suffered - let's focus on the person who has actually caused harm and how best to redress these instances of power abuse.