Tag: mental health

Academia, Mental Health, and the Cult of Productivity

E’Lisa Campbell (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This is a guest post by Amelia Hoover Green, Assistant Professor in the Department of History and Politics at Drexel University

Will Moore’s death was a tragedy. To state the hopefully obvious: Will’s ferocious productivity makes his death no more or less tragic. Public tributes to Will focus, rightly, on his forthrightness, his heart for justice, his mentorship, his kindness. But productivity—as a value, as a compulsion, or both—shows up too.

In his final post, Will wrote that he enjoyed his avocations, but “[t]o feel good about myself—to be able to look myself in the mirror—I needed to produce.”

Joseph Young’s tribute to his mentor recognized that Will “had a chip on his shoulder” but “remained ridiculously productive throughout his career. He passed on this chip to his students, who are in turn productive across the board.”

Erica Chenoweth, Barbara Walter, and Young list Will’s many contributions to Political Violence at a Glance, noting that Will “did it because he loved the study of political violence, he loved to educate, he loved to produce, and because he was an unbelievably generous soul.” (Emphasis mine.)

Another of the political scientists touched by Will’s life, Emily Ritter, calls for academic environments to be more receptive to those with mental illness, writing: “I… tend to be a ‘high-functioning depressive’, in that I can still be productive, meet deadlines, give lectures, and be outgoing in social environments while being depressed, confused, lonely, and panicky internally. …There’s no gap in my CV. No one would have ever been the wiser about my dark clouds–except that I told them.” (Thank you for telling us!)

Stories about mental illness in the academy often come from people who recover, produce, and/or prevail. In an important 2014 piece on depression in the academy, Amanda Murdie wrote: “A healthy you means that you will produce more…Taking time out to care for yourself will make your work better.” Murdie is a prodigious producer of research whose post began with some context: an invited talk at her graduate school department, a secure job.

Outside political science, my Drexel colleague Lisa Tucker wrote a searing and beautiful essay about her experiences with anxiety in academia — an essay which opened (had to open, I might argue) with the news that she had received tenure. Another law professor, Elyn Saks, has written movingly about working in academia while experiencing psychosis. The blurbs, of course, lead with her work: “Elyn Saks is a success by any measure: she’s an endowed professor at the prestigious University of Southern California Gould School of Law…”

It stands to reason that personal reflections on mental illness and the academy should focus on the positive and productive, and/or should come from those who have an impregnable fortress of a CV to speak from. As Saks has written, “I did not make my illness public until relatively late in my life. And that’s because the stigma against mental illness is so powerful that I didn’t feel safe with people knowing.” Saks is now, finally, safe to discuss her schizophrenia publicly — because it’s clear that schizophrenia hasn’t affected the all-important productivity. Continue reading

A Friendly Amendment to a Useful Conversation: Lets Make the World a Better Place

Will Moore

This is a guest post by Christian Davenport, a Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Will Moore was a close friend of, and  collaborator with, Professor Davenport.

There have several themes emerging out of the loss of our dear colleague that have emerged: how wonderful Will H. Moore (hereafter Will) was as a colleague, teacher and friend as well as a detailed and long-overdue discussion about mental health/care in the profession as well as individual cases. I do not want to detract from that conversation but I do wish to suggest two things.

First, just because we might—and should—provide some venue/place/service for people to share and be heard regarding what is going on in their lives does not mean that all of those in need will avail themselves of such a service. As an African American (after generations of experiments, neglect and poor treatment), I am hesitant to go to anyone’s office; many friends, relatives, and black folk I don’t know share this opinion according to existing research. There are other reasons for not going —pride, fear, a perception of inefficacy, shyness, poverty, etc.

I’m not against the community of scholars identifying and providing such a service. I’m just identifying that there are some limitations that need to be considered. If things were available does not mean that our dear friend would still be here.  It’s a little more complex than that and I wish to probe this a little.

With regards to my work on Rwandan political violence, I was essentially traumatized by my trips. I saw mass graves with bodies still in them, conversed with murderers, interviewed survivors, and surveyed both—as well as bystanders.  There was no one to speak to except the small group of other scholars who were interested/open (like Will) and practitioners who shared the experience (like the late Alison Des Forges), most of whom were dealing with their own stuff. When I later got in trouble for highlighting diverse forms of violence and got labeled a genocide denier/trivializer by the Rwandan government (incorrectly I might add), I was further isolated, unsure whom to talk to, and felt compelled to withdraw. Indeed, during this period I did not really speak to anyone about the experience. This persisted for several years, until I started writing about it—initially in story/blog form.  After I did this, I began to feel more comfortable about continuing my work there.  Upon seeing the scholarship that emerged (after I was criticized and banned), I became enraged—further propelling me into the research about Rwanda, which I am now completing.

Trips to India to study the horror that is untouchability (PDF), and to the Dominican Republic to study the slavery-like condition of Dominican-Haitians in Bateyes, further fueled my negative thoughts/feelings about the human condition. Much less sensationalistic, this says nothing about my constant attention to the plight of African Americans regarding the myriad of ways that they are killed and treated in a discriminatory fashion—the number of ways which only multiplies as I look further (higher rates of diagnosed schizophrenia being the last). I tend not to discuss this last one with any of colleagues and numerous friends because most “don’t want to go there”—including, to be honest, myself. Will would go there. He was always ready to let me vent and I would let him do the same when he so desired. Part of the reason that most would not, however, is that there is no simple resolution to the problem. This leads me to the second point.

Second, I wish to suggest that we not only focus on the scholars who are addressing difficult topics and the support systems around them, but also the system that produced the privilege that so elevated and disturbed our dear friend Will.  I wish to suggest that we focus on the system that produced the misogyny that upset our friend and compelled him to take action—repeatedly. I wish to focus on the racism that compelled him to take action and the repression that provoked him to work so hard. I want to focus on the discipline, departments and society that thrives on ignoring peoples work and creating cultures where folks are intolerant of people who are different, awkward, or even odd.  I do not want to suggest that we turn away from such topics because they are difficult, but rather that we all turn to such topics in order to alleviate the overall cost spent by any single person who studies them.

I say all this because I think that some of our conversation following Will’s departing has been hijacked by a belief that if we just had the right apparatus in place, then we would not currently be where we are. I think that many people are in pain because of the world being the way that it is. We are only going to improve this situation by improving the world around us. We don’t just need a venue for communicating our pain and resolving some massive internal issues that these involve. We need to also address the sources for some of the things that prompt anxiety and depression, as well as that shape the openness of individuals to discuss uncomfortable topics. For example, many do not even acknowledge the high rates of suicide within the African American male population (PDF). To deal with this problem effectively however we not only need to provide venues and strategies for helping this population deal with their mental health, but we also need to stop sticking guns in their faces, patting them down, under-employing them, underestimating them, and subjecting them to microaggressive behavior. These two efforts need to work hand in hand in order to produce a change.

Researcher Trauma and Our Discipline

The following is a guest post by Cyanne Loyle, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Indiana University. 

With the devastating passing of Will Moore, many of us in Conflict Studies have begun to discuss the impact of our work on our mental health. Talking is important. So is seeking help when needed. But there is more that we can be and should be doing.

In January, I wrote a piece on research-related trauma and conflict studies.  Will helped with this article.  He thought it was high time that the field and the discipline had a serious discussion of mental illness. In this article, Alicia Simoni and I talk about the risks of research, how to identity trauma in our friends and ourselves, and best practices for our field.

Continue reading

Torture as Evidence-Based Policy Making? Race, War and Science

This is a guest post by Alison Howell, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Rutgers Newark

With the recent APA decision to prohibit their members from participating in enhanced interrogation, and the demise of the human terrain program earlier this year, the optimistic amongst us might be tempted to believe that the academy is once again purified of its collusions with torture and occupation.

The work to be done going forward, however, is not just one of holding individuals to account or raising the bar of individual ethical standards. We also need to find ways of holding academic sciences to account: of treating them not as dispassionate and apolitical ventures, sadly misused, but rather as formed within martial and racist cultures that shape their content and applications. This is as true for disciplines like Physics and Neuroscience as it is for social sciences like Anthropology, or, for that matter, IR.

In order to grapple with this complex state of affairs, we are going to have to begin by seeing the decision by the Bush administration to pursue torture for what it is: evidence-based policy. Continue reading

There is No Lone Wolf Terrorism: but there is anxiety about brown men, loneliness, and mental illness


There’s something about ‘lone wolf terrorism’ debates that stinks. I can’t quite find a singular source of the smell, but after further investigation, it seems the relatively recent surge in the use of  the category ‘lone wolf’ to describe individual acts of political violence draws on extremely rank racist, sexist, and alarmist logic. When you compare the sparse literature on lone wolf terrorism and the slough of articles on the topic, one thing is clear: definitions of lone wolf terrorism are “fuzzy”, disparate, and often rely on contradiction and assumptions about mental health and motivation. The defining feature of the lone wolf terrorist is his or her (actually it is almost always a male) lack of wolf pack (I can’t get past the Hangover reference either, but stay with me). They are loners, committing political violence. Below, I raise several questions about the literature and discussion on lone wolf terrorism in the hopes of inviting dialogue and debate about why this term has such political purchase.

1. Is it possible that ‘lone wolves’ are neither lone nor wolves? The problems with definition:
The US Government defines terrorism as “premeditated politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.” The overarching argument is lone wolf terrorism differs from ‘regular’ terrorism in that it is orchestrated by an individual. Yet the existing definition of terrorism seems to include agents as well as groups. So what purpose does ‘lone wolf’ serve? If ‘lone wolves’ are defined as acting politically, doesn’t this assume- by definition- the affiliation, or at least association, with a larger group? Recent research into 119 lone-actor terrorists in the United States and Europe, concluded that the individuals clearly expressed their beliefs and grievances to others, primarily family, friends, or an online community. This seems to indicate that ‘lone wolves’ aren’t that lonely. Continue reading

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