Advocacy in anger

Cara Conlon with a letter from our May issue.

Over the last couple of years there have been plenty of articles in The Psychologist regarding poverty, flourishing, empowerment, discrimination, inequality, and I’ve noticed a common theme: the experience of emotions throughout. I’ve had many conversations with clinical and trainee psychologists about emotions, how they serve a purpose, and the differentiating effects each emotion has on action-taking. 

More specifically, anger. Anger pushes us into action. It may or may not be the healthiest of action, but it can force us to confront and address uncomfortable situations. We are often told to push anger away, let things go, and essentially supress the emotion at all costs; but why? Anger is a resource that has not been taught to us effectively. 

Without anger I would not have taken the time to write this piece. What am I angry about? Well, aside from the cost of living crisis leading to mass numbers needing basic life support from the state, the immediate trigger was twofold: the government’s plans to 1) increase the period of paying back student loans for higher and further education from the current 30 years to 40 years, and 2) increase the minimum standard of test scores for university acceptance, meaning young people will need to achieve a minimum of a 4 in both English and Maths GCSEs. 

These plans will further deepen the economic differences between social classes. I left school with no GCSEs due to events outside of my control. I was fortunate enough to get on to an access course, and upon completion I was accepted into university, with a full NHS bursary, for my undergraduate degree in mental health nursing. I graduated with a first-class honours, and then went on to do a Masters in Psychology, with the aim of starting the clinical doctorate at the next available opportunity. I know, from Twitter, I am most certainly not alone in this experience. Those like me and my friends – from a disadvantaged economic status, with adverse childhood experiences and requirements for intensive mental health support – will be shut out from the opportunity to improve their lives, and to eventually provide mental health support services to others. 

So I’m angry at their outright contempt for the working class adults and young people who will disproportionately suffer the consequences of these changes. The inaction of anger can be an aspect of learned helplessness; I’ve heard a lot of people say ‘that’s just the way it is … you can’t change it’, but I’ve seen the power in numbers. The 300+ clinicians and the advocacy charity Article 39 put immense pressure on the government to halt changes to the housing situations for children and young people in the care setting, so it can be done if enough people are rightly angry and make their voices heard.

I suspect that the narrative of anger that has spurred me to write will meet with some resistance. Anger can be a devastating emotion to express if we do so with no limits. Yet don’t psychologists have a moral duty to shed light and make voices heard for those who will inevitably need our help if we do not? There are so many people who have had an unfortunate start in life, but if given equal opportunities they have the potential to achieve a better future for themselves. I urge more people to express controlled anger and moral courage for the sake of society.

Cara Conlon


Illustration: Tim Sanders

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