"This paper constructs persons with environmental sensitivities as comprising a hidden, marginalized group in technological culture that is paying a large price for our industrialized lifestyle... This population is marginalized by health-care providers and shunted into mental health categories, as our current health paradigms are not adequate to frame and categorize health problems caused by our toxic industrial lifestyle..."
The Hidden Marginalization of Persons
With Environmental Sensitivities
by Pamela Reed Gibson
Department of Psychology, James Madison University,
MARY ANN LIEBERT, INC. VOL. 8 NO. 2 JUNE 2016 ECOPSYCHOLOGY
Full text of paper
This paper constructs persons with environmental sensitivities as
comprising a hidden, marginalized group in technological culture
that is paying a large price for our industrialized lifestyle. Due to the
polluted nature of most public venues, this population is robbed of a
sense of ‘‘place’’ necessary to maintain personal relationships. This
population is marginalized by health-care providers and shunted
into mental health categories, as our current health paradigms are
not adequate to frame and categorize health problems caused by our
toxic industrial lifestyle. The problem is discussed within the context
of the pressures of capitalism, and examples are given of persons
with environmental illness receiving mental health diagnoses (an
attempted colonization) when they attempt to access mainstream
health-care providers who lack knowledge or expertise regarding
There seem to be parallels between the global colonization of
mental health categories and the internal marginalization and attempted
colonization of those for whom high technology is not viable.
Mills (2013) speaks of ‘‘colonial subject formation’’ as our
Western diagnostic mental health nomenclature is exported to create
greater numbers of drug-dependent customers for pharmaceutical
companies. Just as this diagnostic nomenclature travels the seas to
colonize China and India, it inserts itself into populations ‘‘at home’’
where a resonant diagnostic home for physical illness is lacking, thus
further enlarging its scope. So psychiatry can delegitimize and then
colonize as patients those who react to products of technology in
ways that others do not.
For the ‘‘system’’ it is better that those with ES [environmental sensitivities] be disenfranchised
and relegated to the mental health industry where they can then at
least be subsumed in presently validated categories (and feed the
current problematic system). Thus psychiatry first delegitimizes/
marginalizes and then attempts to colonize as patients those who
react to products of technology in ways others cannot.
Despite physiological findings of inflammation (Belpomme et al.,
2015), hypoperfusion in the temporal lobes upon chemical exposure
(Orriols et al., 2009), a change in the permeability of the blood brain
barrier specifically for EHS ( Johansson, 2015), and other findings, ES
remain marginalized and treated only by environmental physicians,
who themselves are marginalized by mainstream medical ‘‘science’’
for their efforts.
Though the perceived disorder in those with ES is actually only a
by-product of a society-wide disorder that includes excessive faith in
and reverence for technology and industry, technological stressors
must be ignored, by not only health-care providers but by others, to
meet the capitalist goal of limitless growth.
People with ES are a fairly new group (though many have been
sick for 30–40 years) that has been rendered irrelevant to mainstream
economic commerce. How many more demographics will industrial
conglomerates destroy before the very principle of growth at any cost
is questioned and, more importantly, replaced by a sustainable paradigm?
...people with ES must endure illness for the current economic
model to continue. They and other groups absorb a portion of the
costs of our highly technological, resource-extractive business model
that benefits a small number of persons. Mental health diagnoses
keep this population in check so that complaints about toxics are not taken seriously. On the other hand, ‘‘If you become so delusional that
you no longer see trees, human beings, a living planet, but, instead,
dollar bills, workers, resources—far from being put away, you may
find yourself well-rewarded, perhaps the CEO of a corporation’’...
Dispensable groups in the United States may include veterans with
health needs, those with ES, small farmers, minorities, people with
disabilities, the elderly, the ‘‘undocumented,’’ and the poor, among
others. Once one tallies the numbers in each of these groups, how
many remain who are truly indispensable? The economic system of
capital is working for only a small, temporary, elite. Some hang on at
the margins, many fall off, and some are outright destroyed.
I do not believe that the concepts of chemical or electrical hypersensitivity
can ever be addressed in isolation from the generational
slide in the acceptance of unreal environments. Whether we
will stop this slide is questionable, though Kahn (2011) suggests that
we must immerse our children in nature and help them understand
that they are seeing a degenerated version of the world...