Our Anti-Sanist Future
How to talk about mental health during the holidays and why it’s vital we create an anti-sanist culture
The year 2020 forced us to reimagine life on the planet in diverse ways — socially, ecologically, politically. Nothing was “normal,” and yet our basic human needs remained and confronted us: how to eat anew, how to schedule our lives anew, and how to live in even closer emotional proximity with those in our immediate environments.
And yet, for a unique and oft-neglected demographic, the conditions of 2020 made things easier — for those with some forms of mental or psychiatric difference, the abrupt shift to quiet, home, and routine was a welcome balm, and a relief from the frenzy of everyday modern life.
As a journalist with mental health challenges myself, and a researcher on cognitive diversity, in 2020 I found myself digging into a new area of inquiry — on sanism. What is sanism? Sanism is prejudice and discrimination toward those with mental health differences, judging people because of their mental health status, or even denying certain opportunities because of such differences. Like sexism, racism, ageism, and homophobia, sanism is embedded into our very culture and society.
Additionally, and not surprisingly, sanism is perpetuated in movies, television, and pop culture, and so when considering reimagining futures post-2020, it is vital to examine the role of media, just as we might when trying to counter messages of sexist and racist stereotypes.
Research by Heather Stuart at Queen University shows that characters with mental illness are often depicted as violent and dangerous, and the actual camera shots feature more extreme close-ups and odd facial expressions. “Regardless of the genre studied, media have been found to provide overwhelmingly dramatic and distorted images of mental illness that emphasise dangerousness, criminality and unpredictability,” she writes. She says that such shots reinforce “their isolation and dislocation from the other characters and from the community.”