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The Role Privilege Plays in Mental Health Recovery

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I have been privileged in my recovery in many ways.

There are many forms of privilege people can “benefit from.” During my recovery, I have benefited from financial, emotional, cultural and intellectual prowess to move forward in healing. I will make these aspects of privilege, which intersect with recovery, visible to the reader.

I can’t help but share a moment of my first internship in social work to shed more light on privilege. In 2010, I was setting out in my graduate education in social work — my first time exposed to other professional workers and the workforce. My journey back in 2010 started in an end-of-life unit in a regional cancer center up in Johnson City in the Southern Tier of New York.

Every morning, I attended nursing rounds. The nursing staff reported to the incoming day shift just around when I was supposed to arrive for my internship at the unit. During my training was the first time I heard the term: “re-hab-able,” as in, he or she is not too ridden with cancer to benefit from rehab and “rally back.” This concept shocked me deeply. Perhaps it surprised me because I was embarking on a recovery-based learning trajectory. Or, maybe I was young, naive and always believed no one is beyond repair. Slowly, I learned not everyone shared my philosophy of recovery. I was soon going to discover the complex web of meaning surrounding recovery and healing and how they intersect with privilege.

As time unfolded, I would learn more about the intersectionality and the “web” of opportunity encircling mental health. The next learning moment came during my work as a recovery specialist working for a local mental health association. I was a field worker in the inner city of Yonkers, New York. During my work as a peer with one client, I would run into a stumbling block whenever I met with this individual. The client would remind me, during my motivational talks, that I have a supportive family, something my client learned through our meetings.

Looking back on that experience, I can’t help but remember feeling the metaphorical frog in my throat every time this client reminded me my family was the reason I was so successful in my recovery. There is no question our supports are crucial in our healing. In terms of healing, only some people have a family with a vested interest in their recovery. Not everyone recovering from a significant mental health diagnosis has a family willing to take on the challenges of supporting someone they love carrying on the fight against a mental health disorder.

The layers of privilege go deeper than just family support. There is emotional support from friends, professionals. Financial aid to carrying on payment for new medications or housing when the disruptions of symptoms take on forms that cause property loss, either from self-destruction or misplacement of goods due to memory loss or confusion. Even down to transportation to and from treatment are shards of privilege. These aspects of fighting against a disorder cost money and resources that aren’t available to everyone carrying a mental health diagnosis.

Even more profound are the cultural implications of privilege. Many cultures do not believe in diagnosis. They do not see mental health as something that requires treatment or medical intervention upon dysregulation. I am lucky I come from a background in which my heritage doesn’t interfere with my access or adherence to treatment. To this day, some cultures do not view people exhibiting symptoms from a mental health diagnosis as requiring necessary medical or psychiatric intervention, which may be life-saving or life-preserving.

Ultimately, I have been privileged to live out my existence in a manner in which my friends, family, financial status and cultural background have all been critical players in hurling me closer to my healing and recovery. Many people continue to struggle without the necessary resources they need to keep moving forward in their journey with a mental health diagnosis. So, when you encounter people in your life that need help:

1. Reach out to them.

2. Point them towards the necessary resources they will need to continue living without bounds.

3. Privilege them with your helping hands and walk alongside them in their recovery.

Getty image by HbrH

Originally published: March 25, 2021
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