Women And Mental Health: Why Gender Matters

Posted: February 26, 2015

Have you ever considered that mental health can be a gendered issue? Looking at women and mental health problems’ impact.

Mental health is a taboo topic in society. This is especially  interesting given that nowadays almost everyone seems to be dealing with some sort of stress or severe anxiety disorders. So, it is actually paradoxical that the media chooses to completely ignore the issue in the first place. This makes it becomes difficult for people who are dealing with mental health problems to come out and seek active and empathetic support from others. Apart from this, mental health patients face huge stigmatization and discrimination in society.

Let us inspect the gender angle in the discussion around mental health. According to the WHO, “Gender is a critical determinant of mental health and mental illness. It determines the differential power and control men and women have over the socio-economic determinants of their mental health and lives, their social position, status and treatment in society and their susceptibility and exposure to specific mental health risks.”

It is a well known fact that women facing these issues have to undergo multiple oppressions since any type of mental disability or illness seems to drastically affect their desirably in society. Their worth is dependent on them trying to appear as ‘normal’ as they can and keeping up appearances in their lives.

Their worth is dependent on them trying to appear as ‘normal’ as they can and keeping up appearances in their lives.

In fact, the social construct of ‘normalcy’ is gender dependent as well. Why else would a seemingly abusive and twisted relationship between Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele be heavily romanticized in 50 shades of Grey but when the roles are somewhat reversed, the movie becomes a horror story instead? (Exhibit A: Fatal Attraction)

There are many socio-cultural issues that can affect one’s mental health. In a patriarchal society, women may face sexual assaults, domestic violence, objectification,  etc. on a daily basis. This has a huge implication on their health and mental stability. One cannot forget the emotional and financial dependence on someone else in the family (after all, women still are seen as property, which is passed from one man to the other).

One cannot forget the emotional and financial dependence on someone else in the family (after all, women still are seen as property, which is passed from one man to the other).

We also have certain harmful gender norms and stereotypes that inhibit a person’s honest expression of their authentic selves. How many times have we heard about the ‘gaslighting’ phenomenon where women who sometimes express extreme emotion or anger meet unfair claims of appearing too hysterical? (“Darling, that is not too ladylike!” , “You are overreacting” or worse still “Are you on your periods?!”)

The feminist approach to the concept of health stresses on the fact that any treatment needs to be holistic in nature and not just focus on certain body parts. The social determinants of health as well as the economic capabilities of the patients need to be taken into account.

It is a fact that the burden of poverty in developing countries like India falls largely on women. Along with that, the prevailing violence against women cases can hugely affect a woman’s self worth and confidence.  Also, we often find that the so called objective Western biomedical model of the doctor-patient relationship is sometimes devoid of the warmth, care and empathy that some women may need. In turn, all this has serious implications on their mental health. This needs to be taken into account to while developing effective therapies and interventions in the local context.

It is time that as a society, we need to collectively make concerted efforts to break the silence. It is very interesting and encouraging to find that many women celebrities are now openly talking about their mental health issues. Lilly Singh, the famous Youtuber who goes by the name IISuperwomanII, has made many vlogs about her having to deal with depression related issues and the Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone did the same recently.

This needs to be applauded but before we can encourage everyone to come out and openly discuss their issues in the open, we need to make sure that there is a strong enough support system in the society. More than anything, it would great if the society acknowledges that it is quite okay for a woman to seek help from qualified people and reach out to support groups. No one needs to struggle with their issues alone. No one has to.

Mental health issues concept image via Shutterstock 

An engineer. Has worked in the IT industry for a while and then decided to

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  1. Sinjini Sengupta

    Nice article! Would love if you visit by my posts and leave some comments behind 🙂

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