Navigating mental and emotional wellbeing in risky forms of human rights activism

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How do people engaged in risky forms of activism understand and manage their mental and emotional wellbeing? What factors shape these responses? How is this significant for the sustainability of activism and human rights movements around the world? Drawing on a study with 407 participants who experienced high risks in human rights practice in Colombia, Mexico, Egypt, Kenya, and Indonesia, this article argues that cultures of human rights practice shape the way that mental and emotional wellbeing is understood and practiced. Gendered ‘feeling rules’ that valorize bravery, commitment, sacrifice, and selflessness complicate conversations about mental and emotional wellbeing, triggering feelings of guilt and self-indulgence in relation to self-care. Discussions about mental and emotional wellbeing are sensitive, culturally mediated, and laden with social and political implications. Some leaders are concerned that revealing their fears and vulnerabilities will lead to movement demobilisation. Mental health issues are thus made invisible. Participants in this study tended to rely on private rather than collective coping strategies; relatively few human rights groups and organisations adopted wellbeing practices. Crucially, however, activists affirm that their human rights practice enables them to experience and attain individual and collective wellbeing. This article discusses the maintenance of practices for self- and collective care that can sustain people engaged in activism in the face of high risks.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-35
JournalSocial Movement Studies
Issue number1
Early online date2 Jan 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Jan 2020

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