Women, alcohol, mental health: a politics of oppression by Patsy Staddon


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Women, alcohol, mental health: a politics of oppression by Patsy Staddon - a presentation from the symposium on social movements and their contributions to sociological knowledge on mental health at the University of Wolverhampton. Held on 13 June 2014.

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Women, alcohol, mental health: a politics of oppression by Patsy Staddon

  1. 1. Women, alcohol, mental health: a politics of oppression Dr. Patsy Staddon Plymouth University and WIAS (Women’s Independent Alcohol Support)
  2. 2. Abstract  How a social model of disability may also be applied to understandings of mental health  How it might illuminate understandings of women’s alcohol use  Human rights issue: when approval rests upon prescribed and circumscribed appearance and behaviour  Challenge to concept of alcohol as problem, as opposed to a means of exploration and self-discovery  Discussion situated within a politics of oppression of those with less power in society
  3. 3. Social models Social model of disability says: problems of disabled people are caused by how society has organised itself ---excluding certain groups by creating barriers to their involvement and disabling them (Oliver, 1998; Beresford, 2009) Social model of mental health might ask: ‘what social factors make it hard for me to be myself?’  Acknowledges different ways of experiencing reality  Addresses stigma and fear of deviance  Questions imposition of medical model of ‘mental illness’  Establishes concept of authenticity as human right
  4. 4. Problems with social model for some service users  Fear that may be seen as ‘choosing to be ill’  Fear that distress and pain may be trivialised  Medical model gateway to benefits and other support  Often demoralised by stigma  May prefer to attempt improvement without challenging system
  5. 5. Some thoughts on ‘authenticity’  Feeling able to define oneself in society  A sincere and moral expression of the self (Carroll and Wheaton, 2009)  ‘Genuine’, and including a ‘process of self- discovery’ (Starr, 2008 p.59)
  6. 6. A social model of women’s alcohol use might be: Grounded in social model of disability Seeing alcohol use as i- response to social pressures ii-alternative management of mental health and happiness iii-crucial gateway to authenticity and to secret parts of mind
  7. 7. Response to social pressures High proportion women with alcohol issues:  Are victims of domestic and sexual abuse, often both as children and adults  Suffer depression  Have other mental health problems  Experience low self-worth  Hide alcohol problem  Fear loss job/children/partner
  8. 8. More to ‘health’ than not smoking, over-drinking, or getting fat (Aphramor, 2009)  “ ’Spose it’s a place of me own”  “I worked double day shifts; all the people were round about my age, or younger, and we used to go out like and take a few drugs and go round the pubs…it was fun…”  “I drank cider and the sense of omnipotence was just fantastic!”  “At no point then did I think it was drink that was the problem. I mean I had loads of friends up till I came into AA”
  9. 9. Alcohol as gateway to secret parts of the mind 1-‘Rationality’ and ‘sanity’ are culturally defined (Ingleby, 2004) 2-‘…we only use one tenth of our brain’s capacity consciously. Schizophrenia feels like the other nine tenths…becoming fiercely alive’ (Shingler, 2008, in Jackson, 2008 p.23) 3-Alcohol traditionally used to enable ritual access to that nine tenths (Bowie, 2006) 4-Some women, while using alcohol, had reached psychic worlds they did not want to relinquish (Staddon, 2009)
  10. 10. ‘Something wrong with me’?  Belief systems affect how we see mental health (Beresford, 2005) and substance use (Staddon, 2005)  Powerful historical connections between drunkenness and madness  Alcohol may help self-discovery + expression authenticity and be crucial to identity  May provide ‘a place of my own’ (Staddon, 2009)  Personal growth involves right not to conform to expectations (Ettorre, 2007)
  11. 11. Not everyone wants to be the ‘fairy princess’ (Holland, 2004)  Alcohol leads to behaviour ‘out of role’-- transgression  Pleasure, risk, sexuality  Rejection ‘feminine’ values and secondary status  May involve alcohol ‘disorder’ (Staddon 2009)  ‘Blasted’, ‘annihilated’—wiping out learnt behaviours  Taking time out at all costs (Sherman et al, 2008)
  12. 12. Women’s alcohol use as exercise of human rights (Ettorre, 2007)  Greater stigma to drunkenness in women  Women don’t have same right to misbehave  Expected to take responsibility for moral order  Care-giver and icon  Denied full human rights (Coward, 1983; Lewis, 2009)  Witholding approval commonplace inside+outside treatment  Causes internalised moral opprobrium
  13. 13. Oppressive culture for women with mental health and/or alcohol issues  Category of ‘alcoholism’ can serve as social regulator for women and others of lesser status  Can be a product or a cause of injustice, deprivation, poverty, anger  Can enable people temporarily to access ideas and experiences otherwise closed to them  Such ideas and experiences may inform cultural shifts and even social change  Jury remains out on ‘social construct’ or ‘social product’ and on alcohol itself as ‘oppressor’