JADE visits the Mielenterveys Messut 2013!

About how narcissism can impoverish mental health and how respect for gender diversity can improve it

The Finnish Central Association of Mental Health, an association for people suffering and recovering from mental health problems, organized their yearly Mental Health Fair on 19-20.11.2013. Their aim is to emphasize the right to a full and dignified life for everyone, promoting peer-support groups and training, as well as drawing society’s attention to the problems of lack of service options and uneven distribution of mental health services in Finland.

The fair has been organized since 1997 and attracts every year dozens of exhibitors from the health and social field and thousands of visitors. The two-day program included seminars covering an ample variety of topics, such as loneliness in the youth, the right of children to a safe environment, how to overcome life crises or the emotional challenges of working life.

At first I took a tour around the different stands to learn about the work that the organizations are doing and the material they provide to the general public or the professionals. Among them I found a guide about ADHD in Somali and Arabic that could help our clients to get information about the disorder; I also met the dogs Lilli and Hippu from Sosped-säätiö, which help children at schools to develop self-awareness and care for others; or I picked some brochures from The Family Association Promoting Mental Health in Tampere which have been developed to spread useful knowledge among the relatives of aging persons in order to promote resilience and prevent burnout.

I attended the lecture of Narsistien Uhrien Tuki ry, an association which aims to help victims of individuals with a narcissistic personality disorder. Brita Jokinen, who has written the book “A narcissist among us. How to detect narcissism and cope with it”, covered different aspects of it. Among the reasons which make it important to learn to detect narcissistic personality traits, she mentioned how narcissists tend to be on the top positions of different abusive systems, like companies that commit economic crimes, pyramidal rip-offs or misleading “health” or “support” organizations. They are also responsible of a big deal of mobbing and bullying in the work context, which tends to pass undetected by others (except of course by the victims), due to the charismatic personalities, apparently good social skills and abilities to mask their true intentions of many narcissistic individuals.

Connected to our field of work, migration, that made me think how often migrants become an easy target for narcissists -both local and migrant narcissists, since this is not an issue of nationality, but of personality traits- during their working life and also in their personal lives: due to their lack of local language skills, the impossibility to work in their professions (since their qualifications are often not accepted as valid in the receiving country) or the insecurity surrounding their legal status, they see themselves forced to put up with abusive conditions and little possibilities to get out of the situation.  Narsistien Uhrien Tuki warns about how looking for help becomes also difficult, since the narcissistic person tends to have surprisingly good skills to convince others that the “fault” is in the victim. But despite this, they recommend not to give up, to look for relatives, friends or professionals to trust who can help during the process, to attend support groups and look for therapy if needed, in order to break free and recover from the abusive relationship.

Finally I attended the presentation from Seta ry “Visibility for diversity – LGBTI elderly and well-being”, which approached the issue of the invisibility of elderly sexual and gender minorities to the eyes of the mainstream society and proposed ways to overcome these gaps. The Seta project “Equality in old age” (Yhdenvertainen vanhuus –hanke) belongs to the national Eloisa-Ikä program to promote the well-being of the elderly, as well as our JADE-project does. Seta opened a debate about the kind of mental images or prejudices that individuals get when hearing words like transsexual, lesbian, gay, intersex or transgender, and what happens when those are combined with the concept that each one of us has of “the elderly”. The fact that gender expectations are often imposed onto individuals, with a very limited amount of categories in which everybody is supposed to fit in, instead of being self-defined and self-negotiated, produces an immense amount of self-neglect, neglect from others, stress and discrimination in many individuals, which impoverishes their physical and mental health.

The removal of homosexuality (1981) and transvestism (2011) from the Finnish version of the classification of disorders are victories that support diversity and promote well-being, but there are still many steps to overcome. The elderly is a group in which this is especially obvious, with the service provision and the personnel of the different services –elderly homes, health care, free-time events’ organizers- often not being sensitive to these issues. Seta advocates for a change in which the professionals from different services can receive the appropriate training to address diversity and a more ample variety of gender options would be recognized by the law.

In this particular case, I believe that even if a lot of work is still needed in order to overcome heteronormativity and gender normativity, many migrants belonging to sexual and gender minorities consider Finland as a place where they have had more chances to experience their true selves and live in peace than what they experienced before in their home countries. That means there is a lot of good work already done and hopefully Finland will continue developing the law in the direction of ensuring safety and well-being among diversity, no matter the age, the nationality, the sexual or the gender orientation.