Social Justice, Equality, and Social Problems

Social justice and equality, with a word cloud of related terms
Word cloud by Cristinapilataxi / CC BY-SA

Social justice is:

“The objective of creating a fair and equal society in which each individual matters, their rights are recognized and protected, and decisions are made in ways that are fair and honest.” 

Oxford Reference

Social justice addresses the intersectionality of factors that cause some segments of society to be disadvantaged in terms of access, equity, rights, and participation.  These factors can include disability, gender, race, sexuality, and the effects of colonialization and other forms of oppression.  Because of the multiplicity of factors that can contribute to and interact with mental illness, many have argued that mental health is a social justice issue.

Within the mental illness community, we often face stigma because of our illnesses, but many of us are disadvantaged because of other factors as well.  It’s important that we speak up not just about discrimination related to mental health, but also about the other social injustices that we experience and bear witness to.

The United Nations observes World Social Justice Day annually on February 20.

The opposite of poverty isn't wealth, the opposite of poverty is justice" – Bryan Stevenson

MH@H Stance on Social Justice

We all have elements of our identity that provide us with advantages and also with disadvantages, and appreciating those in ourselves helps us to relate to others.  I recognize that as a white person, I have tremendous social privilege.  Being cis-gendered, heterosexual, and well-educated also confers privilege.  At the same time, I’m at a disadvantage by being female in a society still dominated by patriarchy, having a mental illness, and experiencing disability because of that illness.

The concept of social privilege is often misunderstood, and this is addressed in more depth in the post Social privilege and the underprivileged. Someone can have privilege because of one characteristic but be tremendously disadvantaged because of another. Social privilege does not mean you automatically have it easy, or that you have a good life. Often social privilege can be recognized more in the sense of problems you aren’t exposed to rather in any sort of tangible benefits.

While I may be disadvantaged because I have a disability, I am confident that if I am pulled over by police for a traffic stop, for example, the police officer will not shoot me. That doesn’t feel like privilege unless I think about what might have happened in that same situation if I were a Black man.

I believe we should be celebrating the diversity among us, and embrace the whole range of human identities and experiences.  Love unites us and makes us stronger, and hate only divides and weakens us.

That’s why this blog is a discrimination-free zone, and to maintain a safe space for all, discriminatory comments will not be tolerated.

Examples of social privileges and associated social burdens

Another Way of Looking at Social Privilege describes social privilege as something that exists as a counterpoint to associated social burdens. There can be considerable pushback against the notion of social privilege, and if the goal is social change, perhaps we need to look at ways to reframe the issue (without detracting from it) so that psychological resistance doesn’t get in the way of change.

Posts Related to Social Justice on MH@H

These are some posts on MH@H related to social justice issues, and the intersection between mental health and other justice and equality issues:

  • Earth Day and Social Justice: You might be surprised by the effect social privilege has on access to clean air and water, and the inequalities that can result
  • Happy Fourth of July: as asylum-seekers at the U.S. southern border are kept in cages and separated from their children, there is no freedom without freedom for all
  • I Am Not Free to… – while people are protesting the pandemic lockdowns, here are a few ways in which I’m not entitled to infringe on the rights and freedoms of others
  • The Failure of the War on Drugs means that disproportionate numbers of poor individuals and people from racialized communities are being incarcerated en masse
  • The Survival Sex Trade is a stark example of the power of addiction, which can drag vulnerable people into the high-risk survival sex trade
Voter ID laws as a form of voter suppression by disenfranchising marginalized populations

Health issues

Defunding the Police: What It Could Mean for Mental Illness looks at the current system of police as the de facto emergency mental health service. I believe that society would be better served by shifting those tasks to mental health services as part of a broader defund the police approach.

Human rights and mental illness gives an overview of the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and how it relates to people with mental illness.

The opioid epidemic is a public health crisis that disproportionately affects those of lower socioeconomic status. Working at an inner-city mental health team gave me an up close and personal look at people’s trauma-ravaged lives and the addictions that resulted. In 2015, I lost the love of my life to a fentanyl overdose.

Systemic inequities can have a major impact on our health, which is why the social determinants of health matter. Intersectionality and what it means for mental health talks about the variety of different factors that can contribute to the inequality experienced by individuals with mental illness.

What Is… Intergenerational Trauma looks at how the effects of historic oppression and collective trauma can continue to impact descendants of survivors.

Where race and mental health collide focuses in on the ways that race can have a huge impact on stigma and access to care. I’ve also reviewed Rheeda Walker’s book The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health; it’s written by a Black woman specifically for Black people.

Healthcare system & access to care

God Knows Where I Am: Death by Mental Illness comments on the documentary God Knows Where I am, which tells the story of a woman with bipolar disorder who was released from hospital in the middle of winter with no where to go. She subsequently died by starvation after the health care system utterly failed her.

Is healthcare a right or a privilege?  Furthermore, is it people speaking from positions of privilege who insist it’s not a right? Accessing healthcare is particularly hard for people in the United States who have a pre-existing condition.

Why Funding Community Mental Health Care Matters looks at how funding community-based care can provide better service levels and reduce acute care expenditures in the long term.

LGBTQ+, Gender, and Feminism

A quick note on terminology: On MH@H, LGBTQ+ is used as a broad umbrella term, recognizing that there’s a whole array of beautiful identities and orientations that are encompassed around and under that umbrella.

  • My body is my own questions why governments should get to decide what happens to my body, and in particular my reproductive system.
  • The Cost of Being a Woman looks at the taxation of menstrual products and the price gap in personal care products marketed to women and men.
  • Why feminism helps all of us looks at how the patriarchal power structures and gender expectations are harmful to both men and women, and by challenging those, feminism can benefit both males and females.
  • World Toilet Day (and yes, that’s a thing): Proper sanitation isn’t just important for health; it also has a major impact on the ability of women to work and girls to go to school.

The Time for Justice Is Now

This section is devoted to some of the social issues that matter right now.


Change can happen when people exercise their democratic rights.

And Still I Vote is an organization working to ensure that the 2020 American elections are safe and accessible for all.

Black Lives Matter

Again and again and again, Black people, and particularly Black men, are losing their lives for no other reason than the colour of their skin. How many times does this have to happen before systemic racism is addressed?

The time is now. It should have been many years ago, but now is the best we can do.

You can read here Why I Use My Voice to Say Black Lives Matter.

I also support #DefundthePolice, not only because Black lives matter and Indigenous lives matter, but also because mental illness should not be a police matter.

“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist.” ~ Angela Davis.

Recognizing the Damage of Colonialization & Oppression

History doesn’t remain in the past; it continues to shape our present and our future. The effects of colonialization weren’t only felt when lands were first conquered. Oppression becomes part of the social fabric until we dismantle and rebuild the social systems that serve to perpetuate oppression.

In Canada, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, while far from perfect, drew a powerful conclusion:

Colonial violence, as well as racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people, has become embedded in everyday life – whether this is through interpersonal forms of violence, through institutions like the health care system and the justice system, or in the laws, policies and structures of Canadian society. The result has been that many Indigenous people have grown up normalized to violence, while Canadian society shows an appalling apathy to addressing the issue. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls finds that this amounts to genocide.

MMIWG Reclaiming Power and Place executive summary


I blog from my home, which sits on the traditional, ancestral, unceded territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) First Nation. Some of their history is shared on the Musqueam Indian Band site.