Author- Shreya Kamath
Editor- Navya Om Agnihotri
In today’s world, as much as it's essential to be physically fit, one should be mentally fit as well. Our emotional, psychological, and social well-being are all part of our mental health. And this has an impact on the way we think, feel, act, and react. It also influences how we deal with stress, interact with people, and make good decisions in our lives. Mental health is vital at all stages of life, including childhood, adolescence, and maturity. During adolescence and puberty, the human body experiences many changes that can sometimes be difficult to cope with. Hence, it can have a negative impact on our mental health if not appropriately addressed.
Women usually find it simpler to express their emotions and have more significant social networks, both of which can benefit their mental health. But research shows that many mental health conditions, such as depression and bipolar disorder, affect more women than men or affect women in different ways from men. Now you may ask, why does this happen? The answer to this is that the social and economic factors surrounding a woman put them at a greater risk of poor mental health than men.
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Gender has been identified as a critical factor in the deterioration of mental health and illness. The Indian Society & Culture is distinctive. For generations-long, the Joint family system has been followed, which is usually patriarchal. Major decisions regarding the family were taken mainly by the men, and women were kept in the dark. Adding to that, a lot of times, young girls must have heard this one statement from their mothers, which goes like “Shaadi Kaun Karega!” (translation – Who’s going to marry you?) This statement and the notion of “marriage is a must,” especially for women, take a toll on their mental health and change their perspective of marriage. In low-income nations, mental health services are frequently inadequate, and women are even less likely to benefit from them than males.
The persistent practice of dowry, preference of the male child over the female child, poor or no educational status of women, etc., is all the other factors that affect their mental health. Gender disparities in the occurrence of common mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety, etc., have been identified. Not only is depression the most frequent mental health disorder among women, but it may also be more persistent in women than in males.
The discovery that greater rates of depression, anxiety, and other such symptoms are linked to various risk variables, including gender-based roles, stresses, and negative life experiences and events, is particularly significant. Poverty, primarily domestic employment, and personal safety concerns can all make women feel alone. Mental health issues are linked to social isolation.
In India, sexual harassment is one of the most serious issues that our women face today in a variety of settings. We rarely go a week without being reminded of situations that should be classified as "social concerns." Sexual harassment frequently makes the victim feel guilty, but it is critical for the victim to understand that it is not her fault; the harasser bears sole responsibility. All women are affected by sexual harassment in some way. Vulgar remarks, caressing, wolf whistles, and stares are all commonplace in the lives of women, to the point where they are ignored for normal.
The victims are afraid to report it to higher officials or the appropriate authorities. Fear of the employer, fear of guilt in society that they may have to confront, the concern of being fired or demoted, and fear that it will harm their career are all factors that contribute to their fear. Some women lack the knowledge for it; they are unaware of what constitutes sexual harassment and fail to report it. In addition, sometimes women work harder than men, but either they are paid less, or their work goes unrecognized. Time and again, they have to “prove” their worth to be treated equally. All this definitely affects their mental health and well-being.
In schools, girls are often mocked by their teachers because of the length of their skirts/ dresses. They are told not to hang out with boys as it would lead to them being perceived as someone who is characterless. From a very young age, girls are also told to “behave like a girl” by their mothers, teachers, etc. Even though all this is something small, the impact they can have on the child is adverse.
Most people are completely ignorant of the mental illnesses they are dealing with. They accept their fate, and if they do seek treatment, it’s usually from religious healers, but they don’t realize that maybe consulting a doctor would be the better option. That is why the terms "psychiatrist" and "psychiatric disorders" have a negative connotation.
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Research states that only one out of every twenty-seven people receives treatment for mental illnesses, including depression. According to the National Mental Health Survey (NMHS), over 150 million Indians require mental health treatment. About 10% are suffering from common mental disorders (CMDs) such as depression, anxiety, emotional stress, suicide risk, and alcohol and drug abuse. When it comes to mental health treatment, there is a gender bias against women.
Changes in hormone levels that occur during a woman's life may be linked to depression in women. During puberty, pregnancy, and menopause and after giving birth or having a miscarriage, they suffer from depression.
Furthermore, hormone fluctuations associated with each month's menstrual cycle are likely to contribute to premenstrual syndrome, PMS, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or PMDD - a severe syndrome characterized by depression, anxiety, and mood swings that occurs the week before menstruation and interferes with their daily functioning.
Anxiety & Phobias
Though mental health illnesses such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and social phobias affect men and women equally, women are twice as likely as men to suffer from panic disorder, generalized anxiety, and specific phobias.
Factors affecting this include:
Changes in hormones during the menstrual period
Genetics - anxiety disorders can be passed down through generations.
Traumatic Events- Abuse, violence, or sexual assault can result in major health issues such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression.
Counseling and medication, or a combination of the two, are frequently used to treat anxiety disorders.
Let's Improve Women's Mental Health
Inequality, both between men and women and between women from different geographical locations, social classes, and indigenous and ethnic groups, is a crucial barrier to women's health. To improve women's health, we must tackle issues such as reproductive health, discrimination, and raise awareness about the importance of mental health, all of which may be achieved through high-quality, low-cost health care provided under universal health coverage.
Equity and fairness in the workplace are well-known contributors to an individual's happiness. Creating a comfortable and enabling environment helps them feel safe. So companies and corporates must promote that. Educating and spreading awareness regarding important topics would help them speak up and fight for their rights.
The importance of mental health to total well-being cannot be overstated. When one’s mental health is taken care of, they feel truly happy, their productivity increases, they radiate positive energy around them, they can grasp new information faster, build stronger relationships with people, and feel better overall. Since women are usually the backbone of a family's general health, so ensuring they have access to high-quality care can also benefit children and families. Hence, it is a need of the hour.