• Jocelyn Bystrom

Deconstructing Normal

Updated: Oct 19, 2021


Update: October 19th, 2021

#DeconstructingNormal is a virtual #MentalHealth conference aimed at ALL OF US!


🤩It begins today - join in

I am excited to take part in Canadian Mental Health Association’s Virtual conference over the next two days.


Listening to the opening remarks this morning, it is exciting to learn that there are 670 registrants committed across Canada to deconstructing normal.


We're gathering, longing, and invigorated to not just check the box, however rather to share and celebrate change is ensured.


Are we nostalgic about normal? What if normal, is what got us here, and is living in the past? This last year has magnified what is wrong with normal. For example, when waiting for mental health support & care when we’re in need is the norm. (Margaret Eaton, CMHA National)


  • What are the challenges we’re facing in mental health?

  • Is it normal to not be able to afford treatment, acquire the services you require and need, or have access to resources.

  • Will you choose to be part of the mental health conversation?


If we deconstruct normal, we’ll be able to find new solutions that serve all of us.


CMHA is pivoting away from normal.


When the pandemic hit 47% (CMHA- Peel Dufferin) more were accessing mental health resources. Working towards innovating services and working with the community to provide services on a continuum from light touch to high intensity. When the country shut down during the Covid breakout, there was increased demand for mental health services and addictions counselling. The lesson learned, the golden nugget of the pandemic, was that they could redeploy services in new ways virtually to respond more quickly, rather than putting individuals on wait-lists for in person support. (Lisa Ali - CMHA Peel Dufferin)


🤩 New Posts Coming (I'll be adding and updating with new posts, after I attend sessions. Check back for more conference related learning.)


***We don't need a perfect plan to get change started, we can choose to be 💯transparent, draw on the expertise of all stakeholders, and 💯trust that people will rise up and deliver when invited into the #conversation and their voices are valued and heard❣️


(July, update) Although, I won't be speaking at this event as I'd hoped, I've just received a response from event organizers, inviting me to re-submit a proposal for next year's event. They indicated that this year they had over 150 exceptional presenters submit proposals. It's exciting to know there are so many with lived experiences, passionate about advocacy and reducing stimgma for #mentalhealth. Especially, since its 💯relevant to:


💚 #All of us💚


I've registered as a participant and #challenge you to as well❣️ Encourage others, to #register as well. It's going to be an amazing event. Register here at:


We all have a brain, therefore all require #mentalhealth and ought to be curious and reflect on #Mental HealthandWellness. I'll be a participant for sure! Will you?


***Everything below (here) is from the conference website (*not the writing of Jocelyn Bystrom (added here only for your information) Click here to link to details at CMHA.


Prevention, mental health promotion and wellness



Learn More Here about the Conference:


Deconstructing Normal

(Click here to link to CMHA conference homepage)

What is and is not “normal” is so entrenched in our everyday vocabulary that we often don’t stop to question – or even notice – it. Normal child development. Normal responses to grief. Social norms. Normal sexual development. Age-appropriate behaviour. Normal symptoms of depression. Normal stresses of life. Notions of what are supposedly normal and abnormal – the criteria with which we judge and act upon our own and others’ thoughts and behaviours – permeate our lives and our social and political institutions and construct our everyday realities.

This October, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) will host our 6th annual Mental Health for All national conference with the theme “Deconstructing Normal.” We welcome submissions from individuals and organizations who work in mental health – practitioners, program and service providers, people with lived experience, researchers, historians, activists, policy makers, Elders, political leaders, clinicians – who find themselves “deconstructing normal” in their work and everyday lives. The verb “to deconstruct” means to analyze, to open up a concept to examine its hidden assumptions and contradictions, to reduce something to its constituent parts, to understand how the meaning of something is different now than it was in the past. To suggest that we can deconstruct a concept such as “normal” implies that it has no fixed meaning but rather many meanings and interpretations. As Canadians continue to grapple with the significant challenges of COVID-19 – a time that most of us would describe as a break from “normal life,” it seems a particularly fitting moment to question the meaning of normal and turn it on its head.

The pandemic has caused significant social and economic upheaval, resulting in higher rates of mental distress in our population. In the face of this unusually stressful time, there is so much yearning for when things will “get back to normal.” But what if normal was what got us here? The pandemic has exposed many aspects of our society and our safety nets that were already unfair, unjust, tenuous or inadequate—but were for the most part pushed to the peripheries. The pandemic has forced us to face systemic racism, housing, food and employment insecurity, an inaccessible and complicated mental healthcare system—issues that were already there, but never as visible or central as they are now. Perhaps, rather than yearning to “return to normal,” we would be better off redefining what normal should and can be.

The question of what is normal is particularly important when it comes to mental health. The mental hygiene movement – which birthed the modern mental health system in Canada – played an important role in constructing normality. Although mental hygienists sought to promote mental health and improve the conditions for people in asylums, they were also social reformers who institutionalized the professions of psychiatry and psychology; in doing so, they developed a new system of authority that empowered them to identify and treat behaviours they considered “socially deviant,” “aberrant” and that breached established norms of behaviour.1 The degree to which human behaviours have been categorized and also pathologized is evident in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), the authoritative guide used by clinicians and health professionals in the diagnosis of mental health disorders. While many argue that the DSM establishes standards that can help people who are suffering by providing a clinical tool to help diagnose and treat symptoms of mental illness, it also constructs mental disorder based on assumptions about “normal” human behaviour.2

While the mental health field has actively enforced standards of normalcy, it has also produced important critiques. Given that notions of normalcy have been constructed around the experiences of predominantly white, settler, cisgendered and heterosexual men, experiences that fall outside this realm have been labeled “deviant” and in need of medical intervention. Mental health professionals, activists, people with lived experience, Elders, Indigenous scholars, and researchers have been challenging the notion of “normal” and the social marginalization it fosters for people with mental illnesses, mental health concerns and/or substance use problems. Accordingly, those working within the field of gender and sexuality and with people who are gender- and sexually diverse have been challenging notions of “normal sexuality”, heteronormativity, and the oppression of heterosexism, calling attention to the breadth of human diversity.3 Disability activists have argued that notions of “normal” and “abnormal” are shaped by social standards, that disabilities are socially constructed and a normal part of life.i Drawing its roots from the social model of disability, the neurodiversity movement has been critiquing the pathologizing of conditions such as autism and ADHD and has argued that they are part of the natural neurological variations that occur among the human population – a product of the wide diversity of the human genome. Black, Indigenous and communities of colour have been exploring the historical link between the ideas of “race” and “madness”; how psychiatric labelling, treatment, and institutionalization have been used as tools of colonization, through practices such as slavery and eugenics.4 Indigenous scholars working in the field of psychology in Canada have pointed out how the Canadian mental health system was founded on colonial values and how Indigenous understandings of ill-health and recovery differ from colonial ones.5 Lynn Lavallée, for instance, has argued that in a colonial context, it is more accurate to discuss mental illnesses in terms of “spirit injuries” and recovery as a process of feeding our spirits.6 The Indigenous Wellness Continuum has also offered a framework for mental wellness based on cultural knowledge that displaces the colonial focus on “deficits” in favour of strengths and resilience.7

Problematically, people living with a mental illness and/or substance use problems are often constructed as “abnormal,” which leads to systemic marginalization and might produce feelings of living on the margins of “normal life.” Still, notions of “normal” might be considered helpful and positive for some. For instance, the goal of “feeling normal” again could be an important part of recovery. Recovery can mean a return to a baseline level of feeling, or a return to their own version of feeling “normal.”

This year’s theme, “Deconstructing Normal,” presents an opportunity to explore the significance of “normal” both historically and today and consider how this seemingly innocuous six-letter word has shaped how we think about mental illness and mental wellness, and how we have built and continue to deliver mental health care.


Deconstructing Normal

(Click here return to CMHA conference homepage)

References

CMHA national conference - Mental health for all. (2021). Home – CMHA National Conference. Retrieved June 6, 2021, from https://conference.cmha.ca/home-page/

Mental health. (n.d.). Our World in Data. Retrieved June 5, 2021, from https://ourworldindata.org/mental-health

Stop stigma: 12 inspiring quotes about mental health. (2018, May 12). GoodTherapy.org Therapy Blog. Retrieved June 3, 2021, from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/stop-stigma-12-inspiring-quotes-about-mental-health-0512187

World Health Organization. (2021). Global mental health: Five key insights which emerge from the data. Our World in Data. https://ourworldindata.org/global-mental-health


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