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Mental health stigma is a byproduct of the invalidation by patriarchy of the strength expected of men and sensitivity expected of women.
Patriarchy thrives on one-upmanship. Vulnerability, crying and losing are perceived as ‘weaknesses’ in a patriarchal society. Since this kind of a society revolves around ego, people have to constantly prove that they are better than others.
Waiters, maids, laborers and other people from the lower economic class are considered inferior. Differently-abled people, fat people and the members of the LGBTQA+ community are mocked because they are not ‘normal’. A patriarchal society values competition and domination over cooperation and hence, we see a lot of tension between various religious groups and countries.
In her interview with Emma Watson, feminist icon Gloria Steinem pointed out that global warming is linked to gender inequality because the rise in the human population is a result of patriarchal culture, where decisions about having children are made by men whose ‘conquering’ and ‘dominating’ nature is considered a virtue. In a patriarchal society, power over others is more important than love. The biggest sin in such a culture is to be imperfect.
Seeking help from mental health professionals or talking about our mental illness with our loved ones requires us to admit that we are not perfect. Revealing our deepest fears and embarrassing secrets requires courage as there is a possibility that our fellow human beings will mock or disregard our feelings.
But in a patriarchal culture, mental health is talked about in hushed tones. Men are the biggest victims as they are taught right from their childhood that being vulnerable is ‘unmanly’. Many Indian men suffer silently because they fall short of the ideal of a ‘perfect man’.
Since anger is the only acceptable emotion in men, they often lash out at their wives and children out of frustration. Since a majority of political, religious, cultural and social institutions are still controlled by men, they design structures and rules with patriarchal mindsets. The result is a culture with mental health stigma, where words like ‘mad’ or ‘crazy’ are used to decribe those with mental ilness and are considered insults, and seeing a psychologist/psychiatrist is a matter of shame.
The over-reliance on logic, proof and rationality (which are traditionally associated with men) has lead to total invalidation of intuition, feelings and subjective experiences (which are traditionally associated with women). The result is a culture where self-help authors mock men and women who cannot think positive and ‘defeat’ their negative thoughts.
Mental health stigma and gender inequality are related because at a basic level, both are about control. A society that values control at the cost of everything else will treat mental health as a superfluous issue.
To build a less stressful society, we have to embrace a world where people, irrespective of their gender, class, race or sexuality, are treated with respect and dignity. We have to teach our kids that the mind is not just a means to an end. There are times when it cannot function as per our will and it is not a matter of shame or embarrassment.
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