International Women’s Day 2022: “A woman is the full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture, and transform,” said author Diane Mariechild. There are many such beautiful quotes by feminists, authors and eminent personalities on the amazing capabilities of women who do not hesitate in donning multiple hats, taking on invisible unpaid work, nurturing their families while contributing financially to household expenses. Yes, they are supermoms, loving sisters, caring daughters, but they are also the ones who struggle with mental health issues but do not necessarily like to talk about them. (Also read: International Women’s Day 2022: Date, history, significance, theme this year)
According to WHO, 1 in every 5 women experiences some form of mental illness. Females are more vulnerable to mental health issues due to too many responsibilities at multiple fronts, gender discrimination, domestic violence, and countless other factors. Worse, they may not ask for help fearing stigma and insensitivity.
“In a society, where the talk about mental health continues to be hushed, being a woman further masks the presence of mental illnesses often rationalized by the presence of physical health issues, social stressors, or by mocked by the explanation- ‘You are thinking more negatively because of being a woman,’ says Ruchi Sharma, Consultant – Clinical Psychologist, HCMCT Manipal Hospital, Dwarka, New Delhi.
Why women’s mental health is ignored
“Gender is an important factor in determining mental health and sickness. Very often, when the world of health policy and public health considers the health of women, one tendency is to first and foremost link the well-being of women to that of children and the family. Although this perspective is well-founded, the mental health of a woman as an individual is not highlighted and is lost in the background,” says Sharma. (Also read: Happy Women’s Day 2022: Check out these 20 inspiring quotes by female authors)
Mental health issues affect men and women differently. While women may not be comfortable talking about what affects them and tend to internalize them, men generally act out their feelings through disruptive or anti-social behaviour. In women, mental health generally leads to depression, eating disorders and self-harm.
Symptoms of mental health issues in women
“Some common symptoms of mental health issues in women include feeling sad or down without any reason, confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate, excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt, drastic mood changes of highs and lows, withdrawal from friends and activities and significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping. If you notice such symptoms in your family members, we highly recommend that you talk to them and help them reach out to a therapist at the earliest. Mental therapists can help patients learn new coping skills and techniques to manage better daily stressors and symptoms associated with the diagnosis – so always seek help when needed,” says Dr Sanjay Shah, General Physician, Fortis Hospital, Mulund.
Women and men differ in the way they communicate, handle relationships, express their feelings, and react to stress.
“Differences between genders have been reported in the age of onset and frequency of symptoms, clinical features, social adjustment, and outcome of various mental disorders. Depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, somatic disorders, Cluster B personality disorders, perinatal and postpartum mood disorders, and perinatal and postpartum mood disorders all impact women more than males. Women’s mental health difficulties have also increased as a result of the epidemic,” says Sharma.
Many women who are educated also feel ashamed and discouraged to talk about their mental health issues for the fear of being judged, and lack of family support in treatment.
“Often adolescent girls and young adult women want to seek help but are reluctant to do so because of the stigma attached to seeking help from a mental health professional. They continue to manage symptoms on their own and cope with stressors till the point where a nervous breakdown or a complete collapse happens. Timely intervention is the key to improving this scenario,” says Sharma.
“Women’s mental health must be prioritised, as neglecting it can result in intergenerational mental health concerns, as well as negatively impacting women’s physical health, leading to disorders such as PCOD, hypothyroidism, diabetes, and stomach troubles,” she adds.
Why self care is important for women
Women must value their me-time and consider it sacrosanct. They must remember that it’s not a luxury, but necessity for them. It is essential to encourage women in your family to take time out for themselves. An excellent way to do this is to schedule time away regularly.
“To maintain your own emotional and physical health, it is necessary to get relief from your caregiving role. Get additional care support if it is needed, so that it is possible to take some time for yourself,” says Dr Shah.