Sanism, Mental Health, and Social Work/Education: A Review and Call to Action

Jennifer M. Poole, Tania Jivraj, Araxi Arslanian, Kristen Bellows, Sheila Chiasson, Husnia Hakimy, Jessica Pasini, Jenna Reid


Sanism is a devastating form of oppression, often leading to negative stereotyping or arguments that individuals with mental health histories are not fit to study social work. However, the term sanism is rarely used, understood, or interrogated in the social work academy, even in anti-oppressive spaces. Indeed, social work has been so loyal to the medical model that sanist aggressions, such as pathologizing, labelling, exclusion, and dismissal have become a normal part of professional practice and education. We query the moral integrity of a profession that at its foundational core could play a role in such a discriminatory tactic as sanism. We wonder what the effect of this has been on social work and its education. We ask, who has been excluded, what has been silenced or denied because of the privileging of medical conceptualizations of madness, and how can we work toward anti-sanist social work today? In this paper we provide an overview of sanism. We offer a more critical review of the literature on mental health and social work. We report on our anti-sanist participatory pilot research, and aligned with current Canadian rights work, we call for action with respect to how social workers theorize, research, and respond to madness now.


mental health, sanism, Mad studies, oppression, rights, social work, social work education

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