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Call for Panelists: 2022 AAA AMHIG Panel

AMHIG invites you to submit an abstract for our AAA panel. See the description below, and share this call widely with colleagues. For full consideration, please send a brief 250 word abstract with your proposed topic to by Wednesday, March 16th. We look forward to reviewing your abstracts soon! 

Unsettling Serious Mental Illness: Madness, Mad Studies, and Polyphonous Understandings of Intense Mental States 

Severe Mental Illness or Serious Mental Illness (SMI) is a clinical and legal concept that categorizes and pathologizes intense mental states, intergenerational trauma, grief, dislocation, sociocultural upheaval, and psychosocial disabilities as neuro-psychiatric or biobehavioral diseases. U.S. federal guidelines define SMI as a diagnosable condition which substantially interferes with or limits major life activities (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, 2013). Thus, any mental illness can be considered to be SMI when it impacts a person’s ability to lead their lives, the markers of which include the maintenance of employment, housing, hygiene, and social/familial ties. However, this perspective often fails to consider the ways in which social, economic, political, and environmental factors impact individual vulnerabilities to poor mental health and thwart a person’s or a community’s ability to heal from challenging circumstances. In contrast, global mental health social movements such as psychiatric User/Survivor movement(s), recovery movement(s), the Hearing Voices Movement, and decolonial scholarship/praxis have challenged conventional understandings of SMI as chronic, debilitating conditions, arguing instead for (voluntary) self-directed mental health care, the normalization of diverse experiences, trauma-informed and peer-based approaches for coping with extreme mental states, nonlinear understandings of recovery, and an embrace of rituals and ceremony for addressing mental distress and suffering. 

This panel unsettles SMI by attending to the history of the psy disciplines and professions (namely, eugenics, bio-psychiatry, psychology, and social work) that shape and frame the ways we come to understand behaviors, beliefs, and sensations as “symptoms.” We will also discuss generative tensions in the anthropology of mental health, a field that often occupies a liminal space between the psy disciplines and indigenous, decolonial, and abolitionist understandings of intense mental states. 

We seek contributions from anthropologists conducting research related to SMI, madness, or intense mental states. This may be through clinical/institutional settings, advocacy organizations, and mental health social movements, and via methodologies such as co-production, community-based participatory research, or auto-ethnography. We also seek to highlight the efforts of anthropologists with lived experience of intense mental states who are carving out new spaces for understanding complex relationships among diverse epistemologies of mental distress, sanism, recovery, and disability. We are particularly interested in work engaged with Mad Studies, Critical Disability Studies, and Critical Mental Health.

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