Depression and Field Work

“When anthropologists actively avoid discussing the feelings of anxiety, depression, and desperation associated with their fieldwork, they do a disservice to the next generation of aspiring anthropologists.” Emma Louise Backe

Emma goes on to explain her mental state, saying “. . . my emotional struggles somehow disqualified [me]. . . And I didn’t know how to talk about it because I felt completely alone”(2015). According to the ADAA these thoughts, and feelings are sentiments of roughly 6.7% of adults in America as of a 2014 study. That’s 15.7 million people, just in America. Take a moment to let that sink in; this doesn’t include those who are untreated and undocumented.

Finding this article was like getting a gift from the tooth fairy. Unexpected and delightful. Trying to find academic work on Anthropologists with mental disorders, depression especially has been a tough undertaking. Yet, it is also one of my main motivations for considering graduate school. However, I hope the field of anthropology gets to work on studying our own researchers and their mental health before I’m ready to get an MA.

While mental health issues have been on the forefront of trending concerns, there’s still much too much stigma about speaking out about it. Nowadays I get the distinct impression that topics such as depression, feminism, racism, and many other concerns are turning into something akin to curse words. People shy away or can become disturbed when such topics are brought out in the open.

Looking at my current local, WWU, a very progressive and left wing affiliated school; the tension is still there. As an educational institution, I understand that I, and many others like me, are paying to become educated professionals. Yet as an anthropologist, in training so to speak, I can’t help but feel a missing piece in my education. Emma Backe stated it quite simply, “just because we are academically prepared to live in a different culture, doesn’t mean we have the emotional methodologies to succeed. . . we need to ensure that students are prepared for fieldwork, equipped to be both emotionally vulnerable while mentally sustainable.”. Higher education has put rigorous intelligence on a pedestal, without taking into serious consideration the cost to students mental and emotional health.

It’s time to start taking a critical look at our own field through the lens of mental health.


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