Why is Intersectionality Important?
So why intersectionality? Well it shapes who we are and our experiences. Intersectionality allows us to have a better understanding of inequalities within systems which arise when identity markers such as gender, disability and race are recognized. If we only recognize one element of somebody’s identity and make assumptions about them on this basis, we risk stereotyping them. Think about if you’ve ever been stereotyped, how did it make you feel? Some of those emotions might have been anger, annoyance or frustration. When we use an intersectional approach to view and interact with people as unique individuals, we avoid putting them in a box or leaving them in a vulnerable situation where they start to question themselves or think that they’re a problem.
Think about whether you’re an active listener. The art of listening is important here as it enables us to gain new insights into the experiences of others and the inequalities which exist for them. Without this, marginalized people may become isolated, which then can have an impact on their overall well-being.
Let's break down what intersectionality is, it’s a term which was developed by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989, and makes reference to the fact that as individuals we all possess a variety of identity markers. Each identity marker we possess makes up who we are and the experiences we ultimately encounter throughout our lives. What are these identity markers? Well some of these markers which make up an individual’s identity include, race, disability, gender, sexual orientation and religion. Now think of the identity markers you have, these markers are linked and it is the overlapping of them which shape us as individuals and our experiences. Discrimination or oppression against particular identity markers, including, homophobia, sexism and racism, can lead to challenging or distressing experiences. Having more awareness of intersectionality allows us to consider its impact on marginalized groups when identity markers “intersect”.
So how does mental health link to intersectionality? Well, mental health is affected by our experiences, and therefore, by our identity markers such as race, disability and sexual orientation, because of the specific experiences and life stressors that they come with. It’s important to acknowledge that struggling with identity is normal, it takes time for us to develop a sense of self. mental health is a universal aspect of human experience. Mental health could be seen as a continuum, and where we are on the continuum affects how we feel and how we act. The Oxford dictionary defines mental health as ‘a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being. It takes time for us to feel confident and comfortable with who we are and learn to embrace that. For those of us who struggle with our identity, anxiety and low self-esteem are common mental health concerns. This is particularly true when there are challenges relating to our identity markers, such as discrimination.
When mental health and well-being support services use an intersectional approach, they’re able to build a better picture of marginalized groups and individuals they’re supporting. This enhances their understanding of the support they’d benefit from and in turn breaking down barriers and stigmas and not generalizing.
What are the factors that negatively affect mental health? There are many, including work-life pressures, bereavement, finances and isolation. Inequality is one factor which can affect the mental health of individuals, leading to further marginalization as they can experience more societal and personal trauma. For those who’ve experienced trauma as a result of their marginalization it’s key for support to acknowledge their intersectionality. When mental health support and treatment relates more so to an individual’s intersecting identity markers, instead of looking at each marker separately, it can assist in identifying the gaps within services and care. This is something that needs to be done to reduce and prevent further harm.
Consider three people facing discrimination or inequality: a black teenager experiencing stereotyping, a gay person facing homophobia and somebody living within a low economic status with limited access to effective health care services. Now imagine having all three of these identity markers. Understanding individuals through an intersectional lens allows us to realize the significant disadvantages and barriers they face. This can’t be achieved through a singular lens.
Self-awareness and Self-care
Self-awareness is a key aspect of mental health.This involves taking a moment, stepping back and acknowledging your thoughts and feelings, being in the moment. This allows us to better focus on our own identity markers or that of those around us. Be more mindful of your emotions. How do certain situations make you feel? Don’t dismiss those feelings, acknowledge them, sit with them for a moment to reflect. It can be easy to bury the impact marginalized identity markers have on us. It takes courage to shine a light on your feelings and when you are able to, it creates a pathway to growth and improving your mental health.
The negative experiences which can come with intersectionality can be exhausting, as it sometimes feels as though you're constantly being met with the same obstacles time and time again. So it’s important to take care of yourself:
- Connections: Who can you talk to? It’s important to have family or friends you can offload to when you’re feeling angry, distressed, frustrated or sad.
- Healthy lifestyle: a healthy lifestyle can positively affect your mental health. It’s important to eat right and to get enough sleep (check out the sleep stories and meditations for sleep on the Medito App)
- Seek out your community: It can be helpful to get advice and guidance from those who have experienced similar situations to you. They can help with validation regarding your feelings and experiences
- Do what you love: whether that’s reading, running, cooking, writing, baking, make sure that you take time to destress and decompress by doing the activities that bring you the most peace and make you feel happy.