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Burn Up, Don’t Burn Out: Mental Health and Freedom.

Last week, I documented the events at Warwick Uni and the police brutality that followed a peaceful sit in. This week, as a continuation of those events I want to try to present an understanding of how these attacks are made to deter us, not only through fear but through trauma and helplessness.


Every activist is at some point in their trials made acutely aware of burn out; the moment at which the fight to change society infringes on your own mental health. Recently, I’ve been experiencing that tension. It is, with little exaggeration, a process of consumption. You balance between the urge to continue the fight and the separate urges that you turn inwards against yourself.

This morning I went to see the doctor. Since my arrest at the Warwick demo, I have seen an increase in anxiety, I’ve been suicidal and I’ve struggled to maintain a serious balance in my relationships. I shake and sweat at night and I dream about losing my sight through violent means. He changed my meds and sent me on my way.

So, now, as Christmas draws near and I have to make the effort to spend time with those I love I’m going to have to sift through the haze of new medication, forcefully penetrate through my depression to make others comfortable. This is merely another weight added to my fears. If I’m charged for my arrests, I face losing my ability to work with children. Though unlikely, I face the threat of short term imprisonment or a fine I already cannot pay. And I’m not stupid, nothing I have done in the last two years is going to pierce through the swollen carcass that is capitalism. I feel, effectively, useless.

I’ve been speaking to a friend who has been through much of the same. He was sent to A&E the night the police attacked us because the CS spray was too much for his eyes and skin to handle. He too has felt the exhaustion that comes with the fight to make the world more bearable. And we know that there is something missing in the circles we organise in that effects us both. A lack of mental health treatment.

Activists need to be aware of the effects on the mental health of their comrades, even if they themselves are not feeling the strain. Mental health treatment in society is already minute, it is already underfunded and underprescribed. Counselling and therapy is often overlooked for a prescription of mind numbing medications. In organisational groups that are still dominated by straight white men we need to have serious debriefs and conversations about the effects of their behaviour on us. We need to discuss the fact that they often have little to worry about in these situations, and when many come from old wealth, they have little to lose in this struggle and that they must listen to us and move at our pace.

We need mental health co-ops, support networks for comrades who are struggling to carry on but more than this we need to extend this support into the community. We need to be able to show that there is a radical alternative to coping with mental illness, something tangible and reliable.

This is why, in the new year, we’re setting up a mental health co-operative. We have plans in motion and look forward to the Radical Routes conferences that will help us expand our own image of a freer, mentally balanced society. We want to work towards training to be counselors ourselves, towards being a pillar of support for each other and the wider community. We don’t want to see our friends die anymore. We don’t want to rely on the state to help us with the afflictions that they in turn caused us. We can free ourselves from our depressions and our manias, we can learn to live with our psychoses in a way that shows that we are cared for instead of crying before the deadpan faces of doctors and other healthcare professionals.

The state relies on us to burn out, and actively encourages it. We cannot balance the challenges we face without each other and without real care. Don’t burn out, burn up, and use that fire to set alight those who continue to oppress us.

Daniel Dawson.

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