Efrat Gold

Professional Biography

Efrat Gold is a PhD Candidate at the University of Toronto, engaging in mad and disability studies. Through her writing and activism, she challenges dominant views of mental health and illness, moving towards contextualized and relational understandings of well-being. Gold critiques psychiatry, focusing on those most vulnerable and marginalized by psychiatric power, discourse, and treatments. Her work is staunchly feminist, anti-racist, and anti-oppressive. Through explorations into meaning-making and constructions of legitimacy, Gold unsettles psychiatric hegemony by ‘returning to the sites where certainty has been produced’.

Reflection Questions

In what ways do systemic factors impact your well-being?

What social supports do you have in place that support your well-being?

In what ways could your university change its priority system to better support well-being?

What are some of the pitfalls of the psychiatric model of mental illness? Conversely, how might this model help some people? 

In your view, can psychiatry be reformed or does it need to be replaced with a more holistic and anti-oppressive discipline?

Think about the ways in which you are struggling these days. How might your social context be contributing to or creating these struggles?

What are some ways we can begin ‘trusting ourselves’ in a world that often tries to rush through suffering and deny hard feelings?

How can we bring awareness of systemic injustices into our daily well-being practices?

Further Resources

https://books-scholarsportal-info.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/en/read?id=/ebooks/ebooks4/taylorandfrancis4/2018-06-03/2/9781135080433Decolonizing Global Mental Health: The Psychiatrization of the Majority World By China Mills

https://www-bloomsburyculturalhistory-com.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/encyclopedia-chapter?docid=b-9781350029323&tocid=b-9781350029323-chapter8&pdfid=9781350029323.ch-009.pdf Mental Health Issues: Managing the Mind in the Modern Age by Anne McGuire.

“In this chapter, I look to the historical and cultural conditions of possibility that have shaped and reshaped contemporary Western understandings of the “problem mind” in the Modern Age. I examine, in other words, the structures, systems, and assumptions that have and continue to produce particular, non-normative mindbody expressions—behaviors, perceptions, thoughts, responses, affects, etc.—as naturally problematic and thus as being in need of a variety of solutions. I move from the politics and productive effects of changing psychiatric diagnostic regimes and classification schemas to practices of incarceration and policies of deinstitutionalization, to neuroscientific approaches to understanding the mind-as-brain, to the ever-widening field of the contemporary mental health spectrum, and I read these practices of mind management against the social, political, and economic landscapes of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This chapter is particularly focused on the cultural politics of the mind in the context of post-World War I America. I have, in other words, chosen to train my gaze on the hegemonic center of psychiatric power in the Modern Age. I do so with the keen awareness that US discourses and diagnostic frameworks exert their influence in ways that spill over and circulate well beyond state borders”

https://link-springer-com.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/chapter/10.1007%2F978-3-319-92666-7_5 – Writing Madness in Indigenous Literature: A Hesitation by Erin Soros

The neoliberal non-performance of consultation: Missing democracy and transparency at the University of Toronto – This critical article argues how the University of Toronto priorities and policies have failed to support students throughout the pandemic

How Psychiatry Became Science

Efrat explains the history of how social problems were medicalized under eugenics and how the concept of ‘mental hygiene’ transitioned into ‘mental health.’ Through this transition, psychiatry ended up being legitimized as a science while retaining the legacy of eugenics. 

Eugenics and the Origins of “Mental Illness”

Efrat begins by pointing out that eugenics is not an inherently evil idea; its goal is simply to alleviate suffering and improve the lives of human beings. The problem is that this goal is interpreted by whoever has the most power and privilege. In this way, social structures end up dictating who is mentally ill (or abnormal) and who isn’t. Nowadays, psychiatry is the field that makes these decisions. Efrat then goes on to explain the ways in which social contexts impact mental health, which are not usually considered in psychiatric diagnoses. 

Learning from Disability Studies, Anti-Psychiatry, and Mad Studies

Efrat defines disability studies, anti-psychiatry, and mad studies. All three are different, but have in common the view that social determinants of health are important and overlooked by the mainstream medical world. Disability studies asserts that ‘disability’ comes not from the individual body but from ableist constructions in society; anti-psychiatry holds that psychiatric conditions are not medical disorders, and so psychiatry should be abolished; and mad studies is a broader collective of people who reclaim their madness in ways that feel right to them, whether that includes psychiatric diagnoses or not. 

The Role of Suffering

Efrat explains her belief that suffering is a natural part of life, and that a disservice psychiatry has done to our cultural worldview is to deny this truth. 

When Our Education Systems Don’t Serve Us

Efrat points out the way in which the education systems operate under privileged assumptions, expecting an unrealistic level of uniformity from their students and promoting the singular goal of productivity. Universities tend to off-put the responsibility of radical change by putting money into mindfulness or time-management workshops, but have yet to provide more than these superficial efforts. Due to institutional rigidity, a lot of the responsibility to be responsive to students’ needs falls on individual faculty members. 

When You’re Having a Hard Time

Efrat addresses undergraduate students with her core piece of advice: trust yourself. She adds that developing an understanding of systemic factors that might be contributing to your struggles is an important way of taking the burden off of yourself.