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Seminar series: Social Production of Mental Health

June 30 @ 1:00 pm - 2:30 pm

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This seminar series connects researchers interested in social and critical perspectives to mental health in Australia, New Zealand and nearby. Co-hosted by the ANU School of Sociology and the HASH Network, the series invites scholars and advocates across a diverse range of research areas to present new ideas and work in progress. This might include lived experiences of mental health; the relation between mental health and its social and cultural contexts; inequalities and injustice in mental health; theories of mental health and madness; alternative approaches to the ‘mental health crisis’; social and ethical issues in mental health care; and the politics of mental health. We welcome researchers from a broad range of disciplines and approaches including activist groups and studies, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, media studies, psychology, psychiatry, policy analysis, media studies, critical public health and other disciplinary fields.

Our first seminar will be held at the end of June, more details below. If you would like to be added to the SPMH email list to hear about future seminars, or to receive the Zoom link to join in a seminar, please email baptiste.brossard@anu.edu.au and natalie.hendry@rmit.edu.au

Seminar 1: Social Perspectives on Suicide

Wednesday 30 June, 1PM-2.30 PM

Masculinities, emotions and men’s suicide – Jo River, University of Sydney

Men account for approximately 75% of the one million annual suicide deaths worldwide. Emerging research indicates a link between suicide and men’s active pursuit of hegemonic masculinity via emotional restriction. However, little is known of the continuum of suicidal men’s emotional practice, and particularly how men mobilise emotions to actively pursue or resist hegemonic masculine ideals. This theorised life-history study aimed to explore the emotional lives of 18 Australian men who had attempted suicide. Findings indicate that men in this study experienced a range of emotions. However, during childhood, they learned that expressing emotions such as sadness reduced masculine standing, whereas expressing emotions such as anger through acts of violence could enhance masculine status. Although the gendering of emotions offered participants multiple avenues of action to pursue or contest masculine ideals, they remained vulnerable to suicide. For some men, it became impossible to conceal escalating feelings of distress. For other men, displays of anger and violence resulted in job loss, relationship breakdown or criminal conviction. Many participants indicated that suicide presented a means of ending painful emotions. Paradoxically, suicide could also become an alternative means of demonstrating masculinity, whereby the body became both the vehicle and object of violence.

Organising for change: The progressive politics of lived experience in contemporary suicide prevention – Scott Fitzpatrick, University of Newcastle

The centrality of lived experience to ways of knowing and responding to suicide is widely acknowledged. Personal stories of suicide serve as important sites of meaning-making, power, and social identity with the potential to aid recovery, provide privileged insights into experiences of suicide, improve prevention efforts, and reduce discrimination and stigmatisation. However, forms of epistemic injustice that disable or distort stories of suicidality, together with the mobilisation of personal stories of recovery by peak suicide prevention organisations, demonstrate the need for further reflection on structures of power and privilege in shaping the discursive meanings of suicide. In this seminar, I will discuss the institutional embeddedness of contemporary stories of suicide and highlight their impacts on form and content, with a specific focus on points of erasure and silences.

Seminar 2: Social Perspectives on Depression

Tuesday 20 July, 1PM-2.30 PM

Time Crisis: Debt and Depression – Francis Russell, Curtin University

This research project draws together two distinct discussions of time and depression. On the one hand, the last few decades has seen a revival of phenomenological accounts of depression in the work of influential philosophers and psychiatrists. Figures such as Thomas Fuchs and Matthew Ratcliffe have attempted to return to, and build on, the early 20th century confluence of research between mostly Swiss and French psychiatrists like Eugène Minkowski, Eugen Bleuler, Madard Boss, and Ludwig Binswanger, and German and French philosophers such as Edmund Husserl, Henri Bergson, and Martin Heidegger. Such research explores depression through processes of desynchronization, both in terms of the desynchronization of the depressed person’s experience of past, present, and future, and in the sense of the desynchronization of the depressed person’s intersubjective relationships. While this research provides a compelling alternative to biological, cognitive, and behavioural accounts of depression, it is largely apolitical.

In order to extend such phenomenological approaches to depression, this project looks to produce an encounter between such aforementioned figures, and contemporary post-Marxist philosophical accounts of neoliberalism and time, as can be found in the work of figures such as Maurizio Lazzarato and Bernard Stiegler. For such thinkers, the period of neoliberal capitalism has greatly intensified an experience of temporal shock, insofar as cultural practices have not emerged to shield individuals and collectives against the asynchronous and arrhythmic quality of contemporary life. Accordingly, “mental illnesses” like depression feature in such works as a symptom of technological acceleration and capitalist accumulation. By exploring the phenomenological account of depression and time alongside the post-Marxist account of time and neoliberalism, this project seeks to contribute to the ongoing discussion of depression as a social and political phenomenon.

“I’m running my depression:” Self-management of depression in neoliberal Australia – Jo Antoniades and Bianca Brijnath, National Ageing Research Institute

The current study examines how the neoliberal imperative to self-manage has been taken up by patients, focusing specifically on Indian-Australians and Anglo-Australians living with depression in Australia. We use Nikolas Rose’s work on governmentality and neoliberalism to theorise our study and begin by explicating the links between self-management, neoliberalism and the Australian mental health system. Using qualitative methods, comprising 58 in-depth interviews, conducted between May 2012 and May 2013, we argue that participants’ practices of self-management included reduced use of healthcare services, self-medication and self-labour. Such practices occurred over time, informed by unsatisfactory interactions with the health system, participants’ confidence in their own agency, and capacity to craft therapeutic strategies. We argue that as patients absorbed and enacted neoliberal norms, a disconnect was created between the policy rhetoric of self-management, its operationalisation in the health system and patient understandings and practices of self-management. Such a disconnect, in turn, fosters conditions for risky health practices and poor health outcomes.

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June 30
1:00 pm - 2:30 pm


HASH Network