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Diversity and Mental Health

Navigating Diversity, KISU

Diversity is perhaps one of the least discussed factors influencing mental health. However, race, gender, sexuality, and culture are all important to consider in the context of mental health. This week on Mind Tap, Scott speaks KISU’s resident expert on diversity, Krystoff Kissoon, the host of KISU’s ‘Navigating Diversity’, and Simon Studevant, the President of the Sexuality and Gender Club at Idaho State University.

This week on MindTap, I am exploring how aspects of diversity, such as race, culture, sexuality and gender, can influence mental health. To delve into these topics I speak to Simon Studevant, president of the Sexuality and Gender Alliance, here at Idaho State University. However, here at KISU, I could not possibly start this episode without speaking to our resident expert on diversity, Krystoff Kissoon. Krystoff is the fantastic host of his show ‘Navigating Diversity’.

When I was doing some research for this episode, I found out that are there are some really interesting and actually quite complicated definitions of diversity on the internet. Some even look like equations, where diversity is the sum of all these different elements like race, gender, culture. So, to get to the bottom of what diversity is, and why it’s an important consideration in the conversation around mental health – I simply started by asking Krystoff, what is diversity?

“I had the realization on my show, Navigating Diversity, that I had never defined diversity. For me growing up in Trinidad, diversity is just normal. Nobody uses the word diversity because it’s obsolete, everything is diverse. So, to me, diversity is just normal, it’s normal.”

Krystoff believes that each of our own perspectives on diversity are products of our upbringings and environments. Krystoff told me that diversity is the reality of the human condition. It’s just what the Universe does, it will never create the same thing twice.

But why is diversity important to consider when we are discussing mental health? I continued by asking Krystoff’s perspective on this – and why cultural and racial histories are still important today. 
“Generational trauma. If you just look at the trajectory of history and the way minorities have been treated for centuries – that stuff stays, it’s like stain that you carry with you.”

Krystoff continued to tell me that we can’t keep comparing trauma from one generation to the next.  He told me, with passion, that although he understands that many people have been through historical trauma – it should not de-legitimize how people are feeling now.  Krystoff believes everybody’s feelings are valid and should not be dismissed against the backdrop of more severe historical traumas.
Building from Krystoffs insights, I asked him about other key mental health considerations that exist from historical racial injustice.

“Poverty is a big problem. If you can’t afford food how are you going to afford a counselor.”
Krystoff also explained that socio-economic conditions are very important to consider and that actions like the Black Lives Matter movement are trying to address these socio-economic conditions, which can have direct links to mental health.

I’m very grateful to Krystoff for sharing his insights on diversity. But to dive even deeper into this topic – I was lucky enough to speak to Simon Studevant, the President of the Sexuality and Gender Club at Idaho State University.  I first met Simon at an ISU mental health resource fair – where the Sexuality and Gender Alliance Club had a stall. We got to talking about how mental health and diversity are interlinked. I started by asking Simon, who is the Sexuality and Gender Alliance Club for.

“The club is for people who want to learn as well as the queer community itself. There are a lot of labels that don’t just fall under lesbian, bi, gay and transgender labels, so we try to represent anybody who feels they can find a place there.”

The club is proving important to a lot of people, with as many as 100 ISU students signing up for the Sexuality and Gender Club’s mailing list. I continued by asked Simon, why are aspects of diversity, including sexuality and gender, influential on mental health?

“It needs more awareness and acceptance because it keeps getting squished down.”

Simon told me that everybody needs room to grow and breathe. This year, is Simon’s first year as an openly out transgender individual, but it’s not been easy. Simon told me that it’s uncommon to experience micro-aggressions, such as people asking about surgery. And these types of micro-aggressions have even come from Professors at the University.

Simon told me that mental health issues are more common amongst those who identify as gay or transgender. But this isn’t because they are inherently more prone to mental health challenges – it’s because of how they are recognized, treated and accepted within society.  Simon identifies as transgender – but sometimes presents as a man – partly because it makes life, to some extent, easier, by avoiding issues, like micro-aggressions. But, bravely and powerfully, Simon doesn’t always do this.

“Part of the reason I don’t just present as a man all the time, is because I know there are people younger than me, who will need me, who will need the fact that somebody like me existed.”

Finally, I asked Simon – what is the message to people who are wary of this topic, or unaccepting of those who fall within any these categories of diversity. 

“I think at a personal level, you just have to start by accepting people in your own mind.”

Well, thanks to both Simon and Krystoff this week – I think diversity is perhaps one of the least discussed factors influencing mental health – so it was great to hear both of their perspectives. Join me for Mind Tap next week – where I explore the use of medication to treat mental health challenges. Join me, Scott Greeves, for Mind Tap, Friday at 7,35am.