AMHIG Coronavirus Statement: This is *Not Fine. It’s OK If You’re *Not Fine.

Information about the latest local cases, the furtive yet ultimately speculative timelines for quarantine, and our universities’ tentative but wholly ambiguous (or perhaps unhelpful) instructions for online teaching and graduate packages moving forward is inundating the anthropology community. Yes, we can theorize how the extraordinary is prefigurative of the ordinary, how crisis is a chronic condition in many communities (we see you, Agamben). But right now we need practical, meaningful steps to take care of ourselves, our students, and our wider communities. As the Anthropology of Mental Health Interest Group (AMHIG), here are a few recommendations for the moment, a Coronavirus Care Package, as it were:

Think twice before you send another email. (1)

Account for the labor you request from ALL your colleagues, including student workers, and ALL students– undergrads, grad students, and post-docs. (2)

Adjust your expectations of your students and yourself. (3)

You don’t need to be productive right now. Give yourself permission to slow down. (4)

This situation does not have to be transformed into a “research opportunity.” (5)

Make space for the fact that everyone is going to be coping differently. (6)

Lead through listening, affirming, supporting, and providing transparency.(7) 

Reduce harm by asking non-judgmental, thoughtful questions about others’ and your own needs and seeking out mutual aid groups in your community. 

Don’t theorize the pandemic; take meaningful steps to help make it more manageable (reduce exposure to negative media, make a schedule, solve something).

 Finally: 

Footnotes

1. Think twice before you send another email. Our inboxes are overflowing with emails—from important instructions from university administrators to assurances from our favorite local restaurants that they are taking all the necessary precautions not to risk transmission in your regular taco order. Even if you’re someone who regularly has hundreds of unread emails in their inbox, this influx of information is stressful. It’s hard to know what is critical content and what might as well be labeled as junk mail. Before you send another email to your listserv, consider whether there are better ways of communicating that information. Is there a way that you can consolidate information into one message, rather than sending multiple emails over the span of several hours? We can’t keep up, and our stress levels will only peak as our Gmail notifications keep pinging us.

2. Account for the labor you request from ALL your colleagues (including student workers) and ALL students (undergrad, grad, post-doc). Many graduate students are taking on the additional workload of helping classes to transition online, especially for faculty members who are unfamiliar with digital teaching tools. This digital transition involves a lot of additional time and energy. Many graduate teaching and grading assistants barely make enough to cover the costs of living (and some have been fired for taking a stand against their exploitation).  For these reasons, faculty members should be considerate about asking for additional assistance from their grad students. This logic should also extend to the undergrads, many of whom also rely on outside jobs to help make their tuition affordable. If you want your graduate and undergraduate students to be involved in mutual aid, peer advocacy groups, or other forms of support within your department, consider how you can remunerate them for this assistance.

3. Adjust your expectations of your students and yourself. Consider making your class pass/fail, reducing the assigned readings and graded materials associated with your class, and making all lectures asynchronous. Not all students have access to the Internet in their homes. Not all homes are safe places for our students, and many students are experiencing chronic displacement. This is not a time to replicate neoliberal ideas of work giving a sense of purpose and meaning to people’s lives. Our job right now is to be gentle professors and mentors.

4.  You don’t need to be productive right now. Give yourself permission to slow down. Just because you’re home right now does not mean that you’re necessarily going to be “more productive.” Maybe you’re worried about family members who are immunocompromised or at risk of becoming ill. Some of us are yelling at our Boomer parents to STAY THE FUCK HOME. You might be the primary caregiver of your household, so now you’re teaching, homeschooling, and attempting to get your own work done. You might have pre-existing mental health issues that are exacerbated by the fact that nothing feels like it’s in our control anymore. We need to reframe “more time at home” around the time poverty than many of us experience and the fact that our ability to focus might be informed by the privileges of wealth, external partnerships, housing stability, ableism, etc.

5. This situation does not have to be transformed into a “research opportunity. In addition to not pushing yourself, or others to be productive right now, this crisis doesn’t need to be another research opportunity, especially since IRB has placed a hold on face-to-face research and many of the communities with whom we work are impacted by the virus. If theorizing the pandemic and helping others to do so provides you with energy and motivation to get through your day, then rapid-response ethnography is absolutely necessary. But emphasizing a heightened work ethos right now only reduplicates the “publish or perish” mentality (emphasis on the perish, if you’ll pardon the gallows humor). The people able to produce academic content or develop resource projects are likely to be more professionally secure than the precarious faculty and students just trying to survive this moment.

6.  Make space for the fact that everyone is going to be coping differently. No one knows the best or most salient ways to handle this situation yet. What is working for your friends and family members, or your academic cohort, might not work for you. The coping mechanisms you develop for one day might not work on the next day. Individuals with pre-existing medical and mental health conditions have likely developed coping and survival strategies to deal with anxiety or depression. We can look to the resources some healers have provided—such as guided meditation, deep breathing exercises, care pods, etc. This period is going to be difficult for those of us who are planners and fixers. Figure out what is within your scope of control, set reasonable goals for yourself, and hold space for the fact that even though we are in this experience together, we are all experiencing it differently, in our own ways.


7. Lead through listening, affirming, supporting, and providing transparency. So how do we give care to one another? The first step is just to listen. We’re qualitative researchers—we understand the power of letting someone talk and tell their story. People need to be heard in their fear, grief, and anger. We can all do that for one another. When responding, do not try to silver lining this shit. I know everyone is having a tough time right now, Aunt Carol! Just because many are suffering doesn’t diminish our own suffering or feelings. So rather than trying to scale out or proselytize the power of positive thinking, affirm what others are feeling. Tell them that what they’re experiencing is valid. Rather than trying to problem solve, ask how you can support them. We don’t necessarily need someone coming in to provide solutions (although that might be part of your supportive role)—maybe we just want someone to talk to, send dog pictures or dinner recipes, or play Animal Crossing with. Let your loved ones tell you what they need. And finally, be transparent about your own state of mind and capacities as a friend or a mentor. If you’re having a tough time and can’t talk about certain subjects, you’re allowed to set up those boundaries. If you’re also struggling with next steps, communicate that. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” Your friends would rather know where you are coming from and what you are prepared to offer.

Made it through all of our footnotes? Perhaps you’d like to join us as we create a policy statement regarding best practices to support the mental health and wellbeing of anthropologists, especially of graduate students. Please contact us at aamhig@gmail.com if you’d like to learn more about how to get involved!

CALL FOR PARTICIPANTS: AAA ROUNDTABLE Truth, Responsibility, and Mental Health in Anthropology: The Crisis in Graduate Student Mental Health and Beyond

Beatriz Reyes-Foster and Rebecca Lester, co-organizers

Recent studies have identified a growing crisis in graduate student mental health. At the same time, conversations in the field, occurring primarily in outlets such as anthropology blogs (Anthrodendum and The New Ethnographer) and in the Anthropology Twitterverse, are increasingly taking the field of anthropology to task over the field’s failure to address what has been called a toxic culture of “cruelty that masquerades as intellectual rigor” (Beckett 2019). In addition to instances of academic bullying and program policies that perpetuate structures of social, racial, and structural inequalities, many anthropology programs are also failing to adequately prepare their students for potentially traumatic experiences in the field. For this round table discussion, the Anthropology of Mental Health Interest Group (AMHIG) invites an open and frank conversation about the current state of mental health and attitudes towards mental health in anthropology. Our goal is for the conversation to result in a set of best practices and/or contribute to a policy brief on mental health in anthropology to be published as an official AMHIG document. We invite scholars from all career stages to join this conversation, especially those from marginalized communities.

Please send an email with a statement of interest of no more than 250 words to beatriz.reyes-foster@ucf.edu and rjlester@wustl.edu by Friday, February 21st. This roundtable is sponsored by the Anthropology of Mental Health Interest Group, an SMA SIG.

CfP: AAA panel, New and Emerging Perspectives in the Anthropology of Mental Health

The Anthropology of Mental Health Interest Group requests abstracts for a panel to be presented at the American Anthropological Association Annual Meetings in St. Louis, MO (November 18-22). 

Recent years have seen a surge of anthropological research on mental health in the Global North and South. Anthropological approaches have grappled with syndemics, critically engaged with Global Mental Health, considered the intersections of disability, race, class, and other identities in mental health care, and have questioned the effects of possibly traumatic fieldwork experiences on the mental health of anthropologists themselves. Anthropologists have also charted the impact of governmental and quasi-governmental organizations’ distribution of mental health care services, the growth of psychiatric user/survivor movements, and activism(s) at the intersection of mental health services, education, and criminal justice systems. This panel features recent and up-and-coming work conducted by junior and senior scholars engaged with research on mental health. We are particularly interested in papers that grapple with intersectional approaches and identities, particularly work produced by traditionally under-represented voices. We encourage theoretical approaches grounded in Disability Studies, Mad Studies, the Health/Medical Humanities, Black feminism, Indigenous approaches, coloniality of power or decolonizing approaches, community engaged research, and Queer Studies. The papers will be organized around the question: what does the future of the anthropology of mental health look like?   

To be considered for this panel, please send a title, abstract (250 words), and keywords to Beatriz Reyes-Foster and Erica Fletcher at aamhig@gmail.com by Monday, February 24. We will issue decisions on all submissions by March 2nd. 

AMHIG Celebrates New Leadership and Plans for Continued Success in 2020

AMHIG held its annual business meeting last week in Vancouver during the American Anthropological Association Annual Meetings. We have some updates and exciting plans for the coming year to share with everyone here.
  • After several years of service, Michael Duke has stepped down as co-chair of AMHIG. Erica Fletcher has stepped forward to serve with me as co-chair. We are extremely grateful for her willingness to serve and are very excited to move forward. Thank you Michael for everything you have done for AMHIG over the years. THANK YOU Erica for agreeing to co-chairing with me! I look forward to a successful partnership!
  • Erica is starting a Google group for our group and will be re-vamping the AMHIG website. PLEASE STAY TUNED as the google group will probably become our primary method of communication. Once the link is available we will share it here so people may subscribe.
  • After the success of the AMHIG-sponsored blog series, this year we would like to continue sponsoring blog posts by AMHIG members. We would like to work with an existing Anthropology blog (outlets mentioned were anthrodendum, Sapiens, this anthro life, and The New Ethnographer) and will be researching an appropriate partnership in the coming months.
  • Kristin Yarris suggested also starting an Anthropology of Mental Health podcast series. We all agreed using an existing podcast such as Anthropologist on the Street, Anthropod, or Sapiens would be better than trying to launch our own series. We will be researching and trying to find a venue over the next few weeks and months.
  • We will once again offer a travel award next year.
  • Other ideas we would like to pursue:
    • An AMHIG-sponsored roundtable on Trauma and ethnographic fieldwork building off the Anthrodendum series at the AAAs (Rebecca Lester, would you be interested in co-organizing?)
    • A Policy brief or statement on mental health in anthropology, particularly speaking to graduate student mental health (including important factors such as poverty, food and housing security, and toxic academic culture) –would love to know if anyone would like to work on this with us.
    • Reaching out the the Anthropologists Action Nertwork for Immigrant Rights (AANIR) for possible partnership and collaboration.
Stay tuned over the next weeks and months as we begin moving our agenda forward. We are very excited and energized and look forward to seeing what 2020 will have in store for AMHIG.
I think that is all for now! I hope everyone had an enjoyable break last week and wish an uneventful end of the semester.

AMHIG Travel Award Announcement

AMHIG Congratulates Ms. Emma Backe on receiving the first annual AMHIG Student Travel Award. Emma will be presenting her paper, “The ART of Survival: Psychosocial Care in South Africa’s Feminized Syndemics” at the AAA/CASCA meetings in Vancouver.

Emma Louise Backe is a PhD student in Anthropology at The George Washington University (GW). Her research focuses on the politics of crisis around gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa, specifically the temporalities of care provided to survivors of intimate partner violence and the processes of psychosocial recovery survivors in Cape Town must navigate. In addition to her research, Emma also serves as a Peer Advocate in GW’s Anthropology Department to promote open dialogues about safety planning in the field, the emotional labor associated with ethnography, and cultivating consensual learning spaces. Emma is also a member of the Editorial Board of Feminist Anthropology; an Advisory Board member of Sapiens; and the Managing Editor of The Geek Anthropologist.