Please note: This is an old article, so some of the data here is backdated. The 16 promises of my work, however, remain unchanged.
Whew. This has been some start.
Within two days of the launch of Sanity by Tanmoy, nearly 600 of you from all over the world signed up to build this community with me. I spotted many familiar names - my most engaged readers from The Correspondent, who have stood by me like a rock after its sad end; my closest friends; even an ex-boss from years ago - and hundreds of new ones.
Many of you chose to become paying subscribers, even though everything here is free till March 21, 2021. By pledging financial support and telling me in dozens of moving messages that the work I do is valuable, you helped me believe that maybe, just maybe, there is a future for a platform like this.
I am here, starting all over again within days of losing the most meaningful job of my life, because of you. Massive thanks, and welcome once again to Sanity by Tanmoy.
Who’s the guy you just supported?
To recap, Sanity by Tanmoy exists to pursue a single mission:
There is an urgent need for a platform that will tell authentic, universal stories establishing the intersectional nature of mental health; marry the rigour of research with the soul of lived experience; and amplify ignored voices. This is what Sanity by Tanmoy will slowly aim to become.
But hey, mission statements often tend to be a bunch of vacuous, lofty words, so let’s get down to the brass tacks. Yes, I really meant it when I said we will build this space slowly, without jumping vital steps.
For starters, just who is this guy you decided to support? In Vol 1 Chapter 1 of this newsletter, I will give you a sense of that by sharing with you the 16 values and principles that will dictate my work.
Why do I need to tell you all this?
Simple: Because there’s no other way to create what we want to create. Sanity by Tanmoy is part of a movement to reimagine the mental-health conversation. What is a movement without a shared appreciation of common values?
Also, Sanity by Tanmoy is part of a tribe that’s the antithesis of Big Media. I, the writer, don’t occupy an editorial high horse. Neither are you mere passive consumers of ‘content’. I hope to have you as my partners and collaborators in this journey. And I cannot expect you to commit to that work unless I am completely transparent with you about my motives and methods, and hoping that whenever you are ready, you will do the same with me.
Of course, this list isn’t set in stone. I fully expect it to evolve based on mistakes I will inevitably make along the way (see no.12 below), and lessons I will learn from your feedback. But the honest, authentic core of it will, I hope, remain unchanged.
All right, here we go.
16 things you should know about me
- I am guided by the following credo as a professional mental health writer.
i) Lived experience is expertise: I don’t believe academic or professional titles are the only measure of credibility. People with actual lived experience of mental health challenges and their caregivers deserve to be treated as experts too. I further believe that everyone who’s alive has lived experience, and that this term isn’t the exclusive preserve of people with a diagnosis.
ii) First, do no harm: As a writer, I am privy to extraordinarily sensitive and vulnerable stories shared in good faith by my readers, sources, and allies. My first responsibility is to protect their dignity and privacy. I believe every writer, especially those working in public health, must take the Hippocratic oath: Primum non nocere. First, do no harm.
2. The primary source of my expertise is my own lived experience with depression, anxiety, and self-harm as well as my experience as a caregiver. A secondary source is the last 18 months of work I put in as a professional mental health journalist.
3. I do not speak for anyone else but myself and the people who allow me to speak for them. I aspire to tell universal stories, but without erasing the unique realities of our unique lives.
4. I am aware that my views are influenced by my privilege as an able-bodied, cishet, upper-caste and upper-class man. I try to address the presumptions that my privilege creates by actively and respectfully engaging with a diversity of identities. This means two things to begin with:
i) Appreciating that people with less privilege, or those with a different identity, don’t exist to ‘teach’ me anything.
ii) With that knowledge, getting intentional about my search for stories, sources, and collaborators beyond my identity bubble.
5. ‘Collaboration’ doesn't mean using or appropriating the stories of others but true partnership, and having their voices take over wherever possible.
“Nothing about us, without us” is a slogan that asserts that no policy can be decided without the participation and consent of those affected by that policy. I will be guided by the same spirit where possible in my writing too.
6. I offer no medical advice. Nothing I say has or is intended to have medical or clinical validity. I also do not offer therapist or psychiatrist recommendations on this platform.
7. When I quote or cite the work of mental health professionals or researchers, I make reasonable attempts to clarify their biases and limitations.
8. I am pro-therapy, but I question therapy’s place in a culture obsessed with creating ‘functioning’, ‘productive’ workers. I also believe that therapy, traditionally politically inert, is irreversibly political in a world where politics is responsible for enormous psychic distress.
I am not anti-psychiatry, but I am critical of its tendency to define people as ‘patients’ by labelling them with arbitrary diagnoses.
Update: I do not believe it is the therapist's job to be their client’s ideological ally or comrade or to validate their politics, and vice-versa. Political affinity should not be the sole basis of the therapist's empathy for their client.
Overall, I believe in the mental health care system's capacity for great good. But I also believe that we must engage with its capacity for great harm, including abuse of power. This reckoning is especially important in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has dramatically increased public vulnerability and reliance on mental health care.
9. I believe ‘self-care’ and ‘self-help’ have been appropriated by capitalism and turned into a performance, and that a duty-averse state uses this to abandon citizen welfare. I will stay away from dispensing self-care or self-help advice on this platform.
10. I believe mental health is intensely intersectional. I reject society’s love of the biomedical model of mental health - ‘it’s all in your head’ - and believe that mental health is a constant ping pong match between our biology and our environment.
11. I believe suicide is intensely intersectional. I reject the narrative that those who die by suicide are necessarily ‘mentally ill’ because such a stance allocates all the blame on the individual and glosses over the social stressors - inequality, discrimination, injustice, violence - that often push people to the brink.
12. When I make mistakes, I transparently own up to them.
13. I appreciate constructive criticism. Don’t just tell me that I don’t know enough. Tell me what I need to do become better.
14. I don't participate in manels. As a rule of thumb, I don’t participate in events sponsored by pharmaceutical companies either. I may make an exception to this second rule if I am guaranteed complete freedom of opinion, but I will never accept any compensation from such events. I will try my best to disclose any material I use on this platform that originates from pharma-funded events.
15. I will keep this space inclusive, tolerant, and abuse-free, while respecting freedom of expression. There will be no room for racism, sexism, or any other harmful -isms here.
16. I am not cynical. I believe mental health is everyone's business, and that profound positive change is possible.
I hope this list brings you closer to my vision and ethics. And I expect you to hold me accountable.
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