Posted in jolly june, life, uni, UofT

quarantine files: study with me

due to quarantine and the corona virus situation – my university has transferred all in person classes to online. so i’ve been studying at home. though it has been hard with the plenty of distractions I have been quite productive. here is a link to a study with me video I have created in the past. stay tuned for a new one 🙂

-XOXO chana

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Posted in Anxiety, jolly june, uni, UofT

An Anthropological Take on My Diagnosis

Hey there ! I hope you guys are staying safe during these trying times. I’m back with a new post ! This was a paper I wrote for one of my anthropology courses at UofT – Medical Anthropology: Illness and Healing in Cultural Perspective. This paper looks at my medical diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder through an anthropological lens. So, grab a cup of tea and read 🙂


Written By: Archana Baleswaran

Mental illness continues to raise issues of stigma whether it be in a public sphere or even a private one. Particularly in the South Asian community, the topic of mental illness remains a taboo. My family growing up never spoke about mental illness or even mental health for that matter. In my culture, above all, reputation and how you present yourself to the world is of utmost importance. However, my parents would soon have to come to terms with the state of my mental health and my diagnosis. This paper will be detailing my experience with mental health, the aftermath of diagnosis and will discuss a few themes in medical anthropology – illness, cultural salience, metaphors and agency.

Vacations are meant to be a joyful and relaxing time – but this was not the case for me back in the Summer of 2014. My mom and I were set to stay in Sri Lanka for six weeks. At first, I was quite excited – but eventually, it dawned on me that I would be away from the majority of my support system. During my time in Sri Lanka, though I made many memories, I experienced extreme culture shock. I faced the issue of language barriers, not being able to communicate with my relatives, separation from my support system and a change in scenery. All these factors ended up worsening my mental health and ultimately led to my anxiety.

After returning home, I was still not my true ‘self’, I found myself remaining in bed and isolated myself for the majority of my summer. Eventually, these feelings passed but they reoccurred frequently. During these periods of relapses, I found myself not wanting to do anything – I would miss school. Eventually, with the support and push from my family, I went to see a psychiatrist. She had me fill out a couple of questionnaires and within thirty minutes I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. Due to the severity of my anxiety, my psychiatrist recommended medication as treatment. By seeking help, I was to manage my anxiety and become aware of my common triggers. But after my diagnosis, I still had to come to terms with the stigma around mental illness. I remember my parents telling me not to tell anyone because they thought people would look at me differently. They believed that others will view me as crazy, weak and sensitive. By preventing me from telling others they thought they were protecting me from people’s judgments. Eventually, I came to terms with my diagnosis and now I wear it on my sleeve.

My experience with mental illness can be related back to a few medical anthropology concepts. Firstly, Arthur Kleinman defines illness as the experience of “symptoms and sufferings” from an individual’s perspective (Kleinman,1988, 3). This involves the interpretation and understanding of symptoms by not only the patients but also their family (Kleiman, 1988). In terms of my anxiety – my parents recognized the frequency of my symptoms and decided that action needed to be taken. Some of the symptoms I faced was excessive worrying, trouble falling asleep, and the need to avoid social situations. After getting fed up with suffering in silence, with the help of my family I was able to seek out the proper treatment I needed. Moreover, Kleinman differentiates between the meanings of illness in a few ways – one of which is cultural salience. Cultural salience refers to the ways in which certain conditions are and symptoms are given different meanings and significance. These conditions are either given a positive or negative meaning. An example of cultural salience is stigma (Kleinman,1988). Mental illness is often associated with negative connotations. Through my diagnosis of anxiety, I gained first-hand experience of stigma and the misinterpretations of mental illness. I remember back when I stayed home from school due to my overwhelming anxiety, classmates thought I was faking being ill. I also required a doctor’s note to explain my absence from school. This helps to further explain how issues surrounding mental health are not given the same attention as physical illnesses. Individuals often do not take mental illnesses seriously and think that people are lying to get out of doing something. But this is not true.

In addition, Sontag’s reading discusses, how metaphors influence our understanding of illness.  The language used to describe illness reinforce stigmas about certain conditions and illnesses (Sontag, 2001). Complex conditions are referred to in simple terms – this is turn gets used by individuals to depict how they are feeling. Often, anxiety is understood as nervousness and depression as sadness. For instance, many peers of mine use the term anxious on a daily basis to refer to their feelings of nervousness and stress. These metaphorical understandings reinforce ideas that mental illness is simple – thus it leads to poor and ineffective responses from others. Lastly, Briggs concept of agency can be applied to how I dealt with my diagnosis. His concept of agency refers to the ability to act in meaningful ways. This can be further understood as a type of freedom or choice (Briggs, 2004). My diagnosis with generalized anxiety disorder has led me to have to face stigma and brought to light the various ways in which people like me are judged. But my choice to be positive in the face of adversity, has allowed me to wear my diagnosis on my sleeve. In order to help combat the stigma around mental health and spread awareness, I did a Tedx Talk at my high school about my experience with generalized anxiety disorder. By, coming to terms with my diagnosis I was able to not only share my story with my close friends but also my entire high school. Instead of dwelling on my diagnosis, I took matters into my own hands to spread awareness about the importance of mental health.

In conclusion, my diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder can be observed through a medical anthropological lens – through my understanding of illness, cultural salience, metaphors and agency.  

References

A, Kleinman. 1988. Preface; and The Meanings of Symptoms and Disorders. In The Illness Narratives: Suffering, Healing & the Human Condition. USA: Basic Books, pp. xi-xvi; 3-30.

S, Sontag. 2001. Illness as Metaphor. New York: Picador. [Excerpt on Quercus]

C, Briggs. 2004. Theorizing Modernity Conspiratorially: Science, Scale, and the Political Economy of Public Discourse in Explanations of a Cholera Epidemic. American Ethnologist 31(2):164-187.

Posted in Anxiety, jolly june, uni, UofT

Canadian Youth and Anxiety

Mental Illness is one of the leading causes of illness worldwide. Yet many fail to access these resources due to both systemic and personal reasons. It also does not help that individuals continually have to face stigma and discrimination. This was a paper I wrote for one of my health studies courses at UofT – social determinants of health.


Written by: Archana Baleswaran

Introduction: 

Mental illness among Canadians is common. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Canada reports that every year 1 in 5 individuals suffers from a mental illness (Mental Illness, n.d.). Mental illness particularly affects the lives of youth in Canada. As it was reported that “70% of mental health problems have their onset during childhood or adolescence” (Mental Illness, n.d.). Anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses in Canada. According to statistics from 2009, approximately five percent of “youth were diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.” (Anxiety and Youth, n.d.). Though, it is important to note that many adolescents may be facing the adverse effects of anxiety disorders without being diagnosed – these numbers would be higher if this was taken into account. Youth anxiety is not only a burden on these individuals but also their family and peers. Furthermore, mental illness can lead individuals to die earlier than the rest of the Canadian population as it can “cut 10 to 20 years” from one’s life expectancy (Mental Illness, n.d.). Youth facing mental health issues are also known for their higher rates of suicide as these individuals are constantly having to face the stigma around mental illness. Teen anxiety is an issue in society as not getting the proper help from medical professionals can lead to them developing other disorders like mood disorders and eating disorders. The prevalence of anxiety in Canadian youth is majorly due to the lack of social support and poor coping strategies which in turn influences their health. 

Evidence on Social Support Networks 

Social support networks are one of the core social determinants of health which can adversely affect the health of individuals. The lack of these networks can lead to social exclusion and isolation. Individuals who are excluded do not feel like they belong in the society they live in and feel like they are mistreated by society. Social exclusion can be a result of racism, discrimination and even stigmatisation. Youth who suffer from mental illness are often facing stigma from those surrounding them even their peers. These individuals are often stereotyped as being dangerous, crazy and even reckless when this is not the case. With individuals in society constantly judging them, youth often feel like they deserve the mistreatment. Furthermore, youth facing anxiety are often left with no social support from peers and sometimes even family members. Therefore, it is evident that the stigma surrounding mental illness, in general, is a larger structural root cause of anxiety in teens.  

There is a significant amount of evidence supporting the view that social support can influence one’s mental health specifically causing anxiety in Canadian youth. Several studies have found that social support can minimize depression as well as decrease anxiety levels. A cross-sectional study on children and youth done by Kim et.al employed a survey to all participants. In which they found that teen had received the lowest amount of social support among all participants which may have been a result of social stigma as well as the fact that they may lack connectivity to their peers (Kim, et.al, 2017). In addition, the study by Romans et.al, found that individuals living in an urban area reported having a weaker sense of belonging and lower social support resulting in higher rates of depression and anxiety (Romans, et.al, 2010). Furthermore, a study done in Norway concluded the same results. The study done by Myklestad et.al found that “social support from friends was the strongest protective factors against symptoms of anxiety and depression in adolescents” (Myklestad, et.al, 2011). This proves that the stronger ones social cohesion to both family and friends equals the lower risk of individuals developing anxiety (Myklestad, et.al, 2011). 

All the studies mentioned above. employ the social model of health to describe the effects of social support networks on the development of anxiety in teenagers. This was effective in helping to understand the adverse effects weak support systems can have on one’s mental health. One limitation of these studies is that they do not touch on other factors that could result in low social cohesion such as gender, or even the environments they live in. Moving forward, researchers can further improve their work by considering the how lack of social cohesion influences particularly anxiety. This will allow for comparison of the effects with other illnesses like depression as, there are currently many articles focusing primarily on depression. 

An action taken in Canada to help combat the stigma of mental illnesses is Opening Minds. Opening Minds is a creation of the Mental Health Commission of Canada which aims to address the stigma individuals face with health care providers, youth, work-force and the media. They have created over 70 programs across Canada to help reduce stigma (Opening Minds, n.d.) 

Evidence on Coping Strategies 

Another social development of health that plays a role in the development of anxiety in Canadian youth is poor coping strategies. When individuals develop good and effective coping strategies one can possibly maintain their mental health. But employing destructive and harmful coping behaviours can lead to one’s mental health worsening. The choices individuals make to prevent illness, cope and improve their life can affect one’s health. Examples of destructive and harmful coping behaviours include, smoking, alcohol abuse and drug use. It is important to note that a larger structural factor is the stigmatization of mental illness as individuals rely on poor coping mechanisms because they are scared to get proper help from professionals due to stigma. 

Research studies conducted in Canada have shown that poor coping strategies can influence anxiety levels and health in general. A study conducted by Leslie found that 50 percent of individuals seeking substance abuse treatment have a mental illness such as depression or anxiety (Leslie, 2008). Another study by Bottorff et.al reported that teenagers used marijuana as a mechanism to cope with “difficult feeling such as depression, anxiety and stress” (Bottorff, et.al, 2009). These individuals who used marijuana were not concerned with the possible health risks of using marijuana to cope such as addiction. The study by Rush et.al concluded that there is an increased amount of individuals who rely on substances such as drugs to cope with mental illness in Canada (Rush, 2008). Moreover, in the study conducted by, Stewart et. al, individuals reported using drugs as a coping mechanism to deal with anxiety and depression (Stewart, 1997). The study conducted by Bolton et.al found that “presence of any anxiety disorder was associated with a 21.9% prevalence of self-medication” (Bolton, 2006). In Norway, the study done by Myklestad et. al found that adolescents self-medicate with drugs and alcohol in hopes of it helping them cope with anxiety and various other mental illnesses (Myklestad, et.al, 2011). Lastly, in the study conducted by Schuckit et.al they concluded that individuals with anxiety disorders tend to rely on alcohol to cope their anxiety – which could be a learnt coping mechanism from watching how family members cope with their own struggles. (Anonymous, 2010). Therefore, it is evident that coping mechanisms play a large role in the progression of anxiety disorders.  

The articles used above framed their research with the social model of health to help explain how coping skills can influence anxiety levels. One limitation these studies have is that they fail to consider other factors that can determine which coping strategies individuals employ such as gender, socioeconomic status or even social supports.  

An action taken in Canada is Mental Illness Awareness Week, which is an annual public education campaign. This campaign aims to help Canadians understand the lived realities of mental illness and the detrimental effects it can have with the lack of support (About Mental, n.d.) 

Policy Solutions  

One policy solution to help Canadian youth deal with anxiety is the creation of programs in which would educate individuals on their mental illness as well as provide different strategies for them to combat their illness. The programs would be aimed at teenagers who are currently using poor coping mechanisms such as the reliance on drugs. In these programs’ individuals would learn coping strategies that are more effective and recommended by mental health professionals. Another policy solution is the creation of more peer support groups. These groups would allow individuals to speak about their problems as well as create meaningful relationships with people who understand what they are going through. This would allow individuals to form relationships which in turn results in them having social support and people they can rely and lean on in times of trouble. These policy solutions would be implemented at the provincial and local level so that individuals across Canada have access to them – this would make it equally accessible to all Canadian citizens. This would also result in greater improvements.  

Conclusion 

In conclusion, youth anxiety in Canada is largely caused by social support networks and coping strategies. The lack of social support networks (peers) results in an increase of anxiety in teens as they feel they do not have anyone to lean on. As well as, poor coping strategies can lead to an increase in anxiety as they can have detrimental effects on one’s mental and physical health. More awareness should be brought to prevalence of teen anxiety in Canada as there is not enough attention on the issue currently. Ignoring the mental health issues of Canadians is not beneficial to the population – instead, more action should be taken to help individuals understand and combat this complex issue. 

References:  

About Mental Illness Awareness Week. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.camimh.ca/mental-illness-awareness-week/about-miaw/

Alcohol dependence and anxiety disorders: What is the relationship? (1994). American Journal of Psychiatry, 151(12), 1723-1734. doi:10.1176/ajp.151.12.1723

Anxiety and Youth – Anxiety Disorder Association of Ontario. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.anxietydisordersontario.ca/anxiety-resource-centre/anxiety-and-youth/ 

Bolton, J., Cox, B., Clara, I., & Sareen, J. (2006). Use of Alcohol and Drugs to Self-Medicate Anxiety Disorders in a Nationally Representative Sample. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 194(11), 818-825. doi:10.1097/01.nmd.0000244481.63148.98

Bottorff, J. L., Johnson, J. L., Moffat, B. M., & Mulvogue, T. (2009). Relief-oriented use of marijuana by teens. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, 4(1), 7. doi:10.1186/1747-597x-4-7

Frojd, S., Ranta, K., Kaltiala-Heino, R., & Marttunen, M. (2011). Associations of Social Phobia and General Anxiety with Alcohol and Drug Use in A Community Sample of Adolescents. Alcohol and Alcoholism,46(2), 192-199. doi:10.1093/alcalc/agq096

Mental Illness and Addiction: Facts and Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.camh.ca/en/driving-change/the-crisis-is-real/mental-health-statistics

Kim, T. H., Rotondi, M., Connolly, J., & Tamim, H. (2017). Characteristics of Social Support Among Teenage, Optimal Age, and Advanced Age Women in Canada: An Analysis of the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth. Maternal and Child Health Journal, 21(6), 1417-1427. doi:10.1007/s10995-016-2249-9

Leslie, K. (2008). Youth substance use and abuse: Challenges and strategies for identification and intervention. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 178(2), 145-148.doi:10.1503/cmaj.071410

Myklestad, I., Røysamb, E., & Tambs, K. (2011). Risk and protective factors for psychological distress among adolescents: A family study in the Nord-Trøndelag Health Study. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 47(5), 771-782. doi:10.1007/s00127-0110380 x

Opening Minds. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/english/opening-minds

Romans, S., Cohen, M., & Forte, T. (2010). Rates of depression and anxiety in urban and rural Canada. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology,46(7), 567-575.doi:10.1007/s00127-010-0222-2

Rush, B., Urbanoski, K., Bassani, D., Castel, S., Wild, T. C., Strike, C., Kimberley, D., Somers,J. (2008). Prevalence of Co-Occurring Substance Use and other Mental Disorders in the Canadian Population. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 53(12), 800-809.doi:10.1177/070674370805301206

Stewart, S. H., Karp, J., Pihl, R. O., & Peterson, R. A. (1997). Anxiety sensitivity and self-reported reasons for drug use. Journal of Substance Abuse, 9, 223-240. doi:10.1016/s0899-3289(97)90018-3

-XOXO chana

Posted in Anxiety, birthday, bullet journal, Dear Diary, jolly june, life, Poems, Quarantine Files, uni, UofT

eelam

the history of my people

runs in my veins

the stories of inhumane acts

run like a film roll in my head

the legacy of my family & tamils

keeps me going

everything I do is to honour

my blood

the history of tamils

sometimes keeps me up at night

2009 ,

haunts me

my appama and ammama missing in times of crisis

my uncle bombed to death

my aunt left widowed

how do they sleep at night

knowing they took the lives of

hundreds of thousand innocent lives

the war left

thousands of my people

displaced

killed

missing

murdered

sexually assaulted

kidnapped

dead

bombed

raped

how did they get away

with the numerous

war crimes

-XOXO chana

Posted in Anxiety, birthday, bullet journal, jolly june, life, Poems, Quarantine Files, uni, UofT

darkest days

even on my darkest

I still speak about you

with endearing terms

and spill my heart out

to anyone willing to listen

they say –

If he were the one

he would have ;

stayed

been present

consisten

they call you:

a wastebucket

a fuc boi

toxic

an ass

a cheat –

but I know

in my soul and with everyinch of my heart

the mistakes we were were pure and out of innocence

I need time to grow and bloosom

but I still have faith in

you & us

even when your actions and words tell me otherwise

I miss the old you – the real you

-XOXO chana

Posted in uni, UofT

The Aftermath of the Sri Lankan Civil War

May 18th, marks the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka but for Tamils world wide it holds a deeper meaning. Below is one of my papers I wrote for my medical anthropology courses at University of Toronto.

I hope this post informs you guys (my readers) of an issue that is near and dear to my heart.


Written by: Archana Baleswaran

Basic rights and freedoms are a few of the things we often take for granted while living in a first world country such as Canada. Many individuals and cultural groups still struggle to access what we call basic rights – whether it be education or equal opportunity. Tamils in Sri Lanka, to this day, still face inequalities. This paper will be detailing the effects the Sri Lankan Civil War has had on Tamils both in Sri Lanka and worldwide. I will be discussing 3 main themes: immigration, trauma (physical and psychological) and death. Though the civil war has ended, 10 years later, Tamils are still impacted by traces of discrimination, inequality and trauma.

Observation:

For Canadians, November 11th marks Remembrance Day. On the eleventh month, of the eleventh day, we recognize all the fallen soldiers and individuals who continue to serve during the conflict and maintain peace worldwide. Similarly, for Tamils on the 27th of November, we celebrate all the lives lost during the Sri Lankan Civil war – known as Maaveerar Naal for Tamils. This roughly translates to hero’s day. This day commemorates the lives of all the fallen soldiers. 

My parents were born in Point Pedro, a town in Northern Sri Lanka. My father was raised in both Mallavi and Viyapairimulai. Meanwhile, my mom was raised in Kangasemthurai and Kumbasutti Point Pedro. Notably, both my parents were raised single handily by their mothers due to the deaths of their husbands. However, their lives were deeply affected by the on-going civil war in the 1980s. Prior to the civil war, Tamils were routinely discriminated against and faced many inequalities – racist colleagues, poor treatment, no opportunities for promotions as well as disparities in education. The Civil war brought fear, hardship, and displacement. 

My father, at the age of twenty, fell in love and decided to flee Sri Lanka in hopes of a better life for his family. With the approval of his immediate family and mother in law, he prepared to seek refuge in Canada. He set out for Canada leaving behind his family, home and friends. By September of 1988, he had arrived in Toronto, Canada. He had to work extremely hard to not only provide to his family back home but to also sponsor his fiancée. This required him to work multiple jobs – fast-food chain, factory parts assembler, and security guard. By May of 1993, my mother had arrived in Canada – two months later, my parents were married. Soon after that, they had children which brought my siblings and I into this world. 

To this day, my father works endlessly to support us by working multiple jobs. He continues to sacrifice his time and sleep to provide for us. My father is one of the most selfless and hardworking individuals I know, my only hope is that I can provide for my parents in the future as they did for me. 

Though my parents had been settled down in Canada – the events back home were constantly on their mind as our extended family lived there. Thus, my father took matters into his own hands and sponsored his brother. The civil war progressively had gotten worse from 2005-2009 (last few years of the civil war). When my father asked his brother in law if they would like to come to Canada – he responded with “Tamil Eelam vaarum”. This translates to ‘we will get independence’. My uncle had hope that soon Tamils would gain independence. 

The civil war affected the lives of my extended family, but it had a deeper impact on my paternal aunt (father’s sister). In the spring of 2009, Tamils worldwide lost connection with family and friends back home in Sri Lanka. During this time, my aunt, uncle, cousins, grandma, and aunts’ mother in law were forced to evacuate their homes and had to make their way to internment camps. This required them to walk through water that was approximately above the waist level. My uncle realized that his mother and mother in law would not be able to do so he set out with them to a ship that would help them cross over. My uncle put them on the ship and was standing near a church when the army bombed it. He passed away on the spot. As for my grandma and my aunts’ mother in law – to this day we don’t know where they are. We assume that they have passed away due to their old age and lack of mobility. 

Meanwhile, in Toronto, my father was attending protests in order to gain attention from the government of Canada. Growing up my parents made sure that my siblings and I understood the history of the civil war, why they immigrated and how lucky we are to be living in Canada. In elementary school, my family and I attended many protests in order to gain attention towards the genocide of Tamils – from Downtown Toronto to Ottawa. 

May 18th marks the end of the Sri Lankan civil war but for Tamils, it means so much more. Tamils worldwide commemorate this day to all the lives lost during the final stages of the civil war – Mullivaikkal Remembrance Day. Notably, the Sri Lankan armed forces supposedly marked the end of the civil war with the killing of Velupillai Prabakaran – LTTE leader. However, there is no evidence that the militant leader was killed. In the final stages of the war, the United Nations reports at least 40,000 Tamils killed (Doucet, 2012). The war may be over but my extended family and Tamils residing in Sri Lanka are still affected by the aftermath. Post-traumatic stress disorder, loss of a loved one, disappearance, sexual violence, torture and rape is a few of the results of war. The experiences of a 26-year long war have detrimental effects on the psychological and emotional wellbeing of Tamils. 

Anthropological Analysis

My understanding of the Sri Lankan civil war can be related back to a few medical anthropology concepts. Firstly, Michel Foucault’s idea of biopower can be used to explain the effects of the civil war. Biopower refers to “the ways that populations or groups are managed, regulated and encouraged to adhere to norms” (Dahl, 2019, 19). Foucault originally used this term to explain the management of institutions such as health care. He believed that biopower is seen in the field of health care through the view of dominant medical ideas and practices (Dahl, 2019). Furthermore, this idea of biopower also relates to panopticon. Panopticon was a building designed to be a jail in which the centre held a tower for the guard. Prisoners were not able to see the guard but because the guard was stationed in the middle – prisoners were on their best behaviour (Dahl, 2019). In terms of the civil war, in Sri Lanka, the dominant perception was that the civil war due to the rebelling of Tamils. The Sri Lankan government and the majority population (Singhalese) believed that the war was due to the Tamils and their inability to follow the norm. This stance takes a culture of poverty stance – as individuals blame the victim and the oppressed for the issue. It fails to take into account the social and historical reasons for the war. 

Instead, a structural violence stance should be taken regarding the conflict in Sri Lanka. Structural violence refers to underlying political, economic, social, medical and legal reasons for issues. This perspective looks at how the issue is patterned and does not blame the individuals. Ugwu (2019) originally used this concept to explain how the malaria epidemic in Nigeria was not due to a cultural problem. Instead, it was the poor prevention efforts and inability to listen to the individuals’ concerns. Thus, looking at the history of interventions allows one to see what has worked in the past and what has not (Ugwu, 2019). In regard to the civil war, the structural violence point of view enables individuals to see how history and colonialism played a large role. Prior laws in Sri Lanka discriminated Tamils while favouring the Singhalese. For instance, they changed the official language from English to Singhalese. This prevented Tamils from seeking jobs in the public service industry as they would not be fluent (Britannica, 1988). Moreover, Tamils were routinely discriminated in public spheres – whether it be in the education or working sector. 

In addition, Brigg’s concept of agency can be applied to how Tamils worldwide reacted to the last stages of the civil war. Agency refers to one’s ability to act in meaningful ways – in lay man’s terms, it is simply a freedom or a choice (Briggs, 2004). Tamils across the world engaged in several resistance movements during the final legs of the war when armed forces engaged in mass killings. In hopes of media and government attention, Tamils participated in protests. For instance, Tamils in Toronto protested and blocked the Gardiner expressway in hopes of bringing awareness to the genocide. It is important to note that Tamils living outside of Sri Lanka had the privilege to voice their concerns – something that Tamils residing in Sri Lanka still do not have. Another concept of Briggs that is applicable to this case, is political economy. Political economy in this sense is how inequalities are patterned in society in a political and economic sense. An example is structural inequalities like lack of resources (Briggs, 2004). For Tamils, this is seen through systemic oppression in both education, employment and even daily lives. 

Furthermore, Wailoo’s concept of discourse relates back to the civil war. Discourse refers to the ways in which someone communicates and talks about an issue. It is the accepted way of talking about an issue (Wailoo, et.al, 2006). During the last legs of the war when communication was lost internationally, Tamils in internment camps were allowed to write letters to their families. My aunt had told us that she had sent many letters to us – but we had never received them. The Sri Lankan armed forces had been monitoring the letters and only sent out the ones they deemed appropriate to be read by the recipient. She had mentioned that in letters, she talked about what life was like in the camp and her experiences. This shows how during the conflict with the loss of communication – the Sri Lankan armed forces wanted to control what was being said or communicated to those outside the country. 

Lastly, Kleinman’s concept of illness can be applied to the trauma that Tamils have faced due to the war. He refers to illness as the experience of “symptoms and sufferings” from an individual’s perspective (Kleinman,1988, 3). One’s understanding of their illness is influenced by their perceptions as well as their agents of socialization – whether it be friends or family. Kleinman’s use of this term refers to how the experience of illness is often a social one (Kleinman,1988). It involves communicating with others especially your loved ones to discuss how they are feeling. It also requires support from others – whether it be medical professionals, family or friends. For Tamils who have experienced the civil war firsthand, they are often left with post-traumatic stress disorder. This affects their lives in profound ways and often requires treatment from professionals in order to cope. Furthermore, Kleinman also refers to cultural salience which refers to the ways in which illnesses can have either a positive or negative meaning (Kleinman,1988). An example of cultural salience is stigma. It is important to note that mental health in the Tamil community is something that is not spoken about in the public realm and even a private one. Many Tamils suffer in silence because of the stigma of mental illness in the community. 

In conclusion, the Sri Lankan civil war deeply affected the lives of those living in Sri Lanka, – especially Tamils. The civil war came to a close back in May of 2009, but it continues to have profound effects on the lives of Tamils both in Sri Lanka and globally. The Sri Lankan civil war can be analyzed through a medical anthropology lens through my understanding of biopower, structural violence, agency, political economy, discourse, illness and cultural salience. Many individuals view Sri Lanka as a paradise island but fail to recognize the history of violence, war and discrimination. Though there is still a long way to go and quite a bit of healing needed for Tamils – slowly things are changing for the good in Sri Lanka.  

References:

Briggs, C. 2004. Theorizing Modernity Conspiratorially: Science, Scale, and the Political Economy of Public Discourse in Explanations of a Cholera Epidemic. American Ethnologist 31(2):164-187.

Britannica. (1998, July 20). Sinhala Only Bill. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/event/Sinhala-Only-Bill

Dahl, B. (2019). ANTC61: Metaphors, Bodies, Gender and Cancer, Week 3notes [Lecture]. Retrieved from https://q.utoronto.ca/courses/108305/modules

Doucet, L. (2012, November 13). UN ‘failed Sri Lanka civilians’, says internal probe. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-20308610.

Kleinman, A. 1988. Preface; and The Meanings of Symptoms and Disorders. In The Illness Narratives: Suffering, Healing & the Human Condition. USA: Basic Books, pp. xi-xvi; 3-30.

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simple study tips

Quizlet

Quizlet is both a website and app that is an excellent study tool. It allows you to create your own study sets for any subject and provides a variety of tools to help make studying easier. This app has helped me improve my understanding and knowledge on different topics as you are able to view other peoples study sets. I highly recommend checking it out.

Rewrite your notes

Put your phone away

Go to a local coffee shop

Find a study partner

I hope these tips help you succeed.

-xoxo chana

 

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