Written by Rosmery B., Edited by Kimberly Anne
Why is women’s mental health important?
Women’s mental health is only one aspect of the overall health and well-being of females. Women’s mental health is crucial for total happiness. Our mental health is critical because it preserves our cognitive flexibility, emotional stability, and sense of balance.
There are many myths and misconceptions to bust when talking about the importance of women’s mental health.
Yet, studies have shown that this goes beyond that. The truth is that our mental health is linked to different factors, and is far different when compared to men. The majority of mental illnesses can affect both men and women, however, their symptoms may differ.
There must be balance in our personal lives, careers, and interpersonal connections. Good mental health is demonstrated when a person is mentally stable and at peace with themselves, regardless of their gender.
Like all humans, each of us experiences different things. There are no two identical beings; every woman lives her day-to-day reality through different social interactions. Still, most of us are exposed to similar situations that can trigger all kinds of feelings.
It’s no secret that women face diverse beauty, social, and cultural standards. Understanding our environment and how these standards can influence our mental health is important to avoid further damaging our well-being as women.
Why is women’s mental health important? What is women’s mental health?
To truly understand the importance of women’s mental health, we must first understand what this is really about. The principal reason we talk about women’s mental health in particular, and not “everyone’s mental health” is that women’s mental health is affected by entrenched systemic inequality. Women’s mental health is only one aspect of the overall health and well-being of females.
Many women often struggle in isolation. They may feel alone, with no one willing or able to help them. (Here are ways to help cope with that!) Moreover, many of their problems and concerns may be minimized under the guise that they are “on their days.”
We live in a patriarchal culture, which still to this day results in social inequalities that are unfavorable to women. The male point of view is generally adopted as a neutral and universal one. This continues the historical invisibility of women, their role in society, and their personal needs.
Just decades ago being a woman solely meant dedicating ourselves exclusively to household and family care. There were not many possibilities to choose from and deciding about our own life was not an option at all.
To be exemplary mothers, exceptional cooks, and organized hard workers while balancing this with our personal and familiar lives and the various hormonal changes we face. It has been shown that women are more likely to develop certain mental health issues due to these many social impositions.
Anxiety, stress, severe depression, trauma, eating disorders, postpartum depression, and pre-menstrual syndrome is some of the difficulties that many women deal with throughout their lives.
The internalization of social norms and cultural values about how women should be, feel, and behave often becomes psychological barriers. This prevents us from feeling good and being free in our lives.
What factors affect women’s mental health?
- Stereotypes and gender roles
Stereotypes are firmly fixed in society. Irrationally, they dictate how we should value the behaviors and attitudes of men and women. Some of these stereotypes state that women are more intuitive, more passive, more submissive, and weaker than men, as well as more psychologically unstable.
These stereotypes have, in general, a negative connotation, both for women and men.
Besides stereotypes, social roles are also assigned according to gender. The social roles of women and men are not only different but bring with them inequality and discrimination.
Household-related tasks such as domestic chores and caregiving, which are physically and mentally burdensome, are considered feminine in all cultures. These tasks have no social recognition and represent a physical and emotional burden for many women.
Not to mention the pressure on motherhood. It is socially considered that all women want to be mothers. In these cases, the social pressure becomes a biological issue, when the“Biological clock” is spoken about as if motherhood were obligatory.
And in most cases, those women who firmly state that they do not want that for their lives are singled out.
- Objectification and gender-based violence
The notion of women as objects who must take care of themselves to be sexually attractive to men or hide their skin to avoid being a temptation is still prevalent. In today’s culture, youth and thinness are valued, at a very high cost for many women.
Many women are often pointed out because of the clothes they wear, and are even blamed if they experience any type of abuse. This leads to a strong feeling of guilt and anxiety around the victims of abuse and encourages fear in women who just want to be themselves.
All these factors worsen the state of health of women because they imply certain requirements, which are sometimes contradictory, that can intensify stress.
The limitations of gender roles, combined with a reduced capacity for choice and the overload derived from the difficulty of reconciling roles, increase the risk of suffering depression and anxiety.
How was women’s mental health treated in the 19th century?
While in men, a certain degree of madness was genius for artists, for women it was always condemnation. Poets, writers, artists, and housewives who were not happy or rebellious young women, were locked up in psychiatric hospitals, claiming they suffered from what was known as female hysteria, being subjected to all kinds of excessive practices, and practices that today would be forbidden.
It took a long time to banish the image that authors such as Sigmund Freud and John B.Watson created of women: as mentally inferior. With the development of feminism and a more egalitarian society, the struggle for women’s mental health (and medicine in general) has come a long way.
From feminist therapies to pinpoint the source of many mental illnesses such as depression, to the ‘mad feminism’ revolution.
The early fathers of psychology and psychiatry in the 19th century diagnosed many Victorian women as “hysterical”. The symptoms? From dizziness, faintness, insomnia, spasms, irritability, and shortness of breath, to what they called a ‘tendency to cause trouble’.
If a man suffered from these symptoms, the diagnosis (and medical treatment) was very different. Women so diagnosed were assumed to be suffering from sexual repression. The uterus was considered to be the source of almost every female condition.
Indeed, the prescription in medieval and Renaissance medicine was coitus if married, marriage if unmarried, and massage of the genital area. More drastic was later when the clitoris or ovaries were removed.
What is the difference between men’s and women’s mental health?
Many factors influence people’s mental health. Genetics, social or cultural factors, past experiences, or even social class. Gender is also one of them. Men and women can be affected in the same way by mental health problems, but there are some mental illnesses that are more commonly diagnosed in women than in men and vice versa.
This may be attributable to the fact that gender has a direct influence on the experiences a person has. Depending on their gender, society will impose certain roles on them and they may be exposed to different types of experiences that can affect their mental health.
Depressive episodes, generalized anxiety, agoraphobia (fear of being in places from which it is difficult to escape or get help), panic disorder, disorders that cause physical symptoms (such as tachycardia or headache), hypochondriasis is significantly related to gender roles, among other risk factors.
Although we no longer see cases as extreme as the methods of the 19th century, there is still a gap between how mental health is perceived between women and men. Even today, the phrase “you’re hysterical” is still widely used in association with certain behaviors that are assumed to be typical of”a hysterical woman”.
Despite “hysteria” being associated primarily with women, men also possess the capabilities to display such symptoms. Somehow women are always perceived as more emotional and their mental health is misjudged.
The case of the singer Britney Spears is the strongest modern example to understand the importance of the mental health of neglected women who have been treated as inferior. Thirteen years passed during which the singer was controlled under her father’s tutelage.
Being deprived of the freedom to manage her money and all her assets, she could not decide on her concerts or performances, or what jobs to do. She was even forced to take contraceptives because her father did not want her to have more children. She was in her mid-twenties at the time the conservatorship started.
This case was shocking to many, who could not understand how such a situation could occur. It sparked debate as to whether a similar case could occur in a man. But the truth is that it would not be the same. Britney Spears was tormented, neglected, and exposed to preach that her mental health was in serious condition.
She was just a woman who wanted to be free and live her life and sexuality as she wished. It took years, but the #FreeBritney movement took hold and today Britney has regained her freedom as it should be (2021).
How to improve women’s mental health
Women have made important personal and collective changes. We have gained greater access to education and a growing number of women are considering employment and economic independence. We are changing the way we experience relationships, sexuality, and daily life; changing values and attitudes.
Making these personal and social changes requires a lot of effort that can generate psychological stress. Not fulfilling the standard ideal models can provoke criticism from the people around us, which sometimes makes us feel guilty and insecure.
So, the first thing we must do to improve our environment and our mental health as women is to take it easy. Get rid of that imposed idea that we owe someone something. We don’t owe anything to anyone but ourselves.
Start taking care of yourself, and take your time to get things done. Spend time with yourself and discover what makes you most happy about that alone time. Connecting with yourself and then connecting with others will make much more sense.
If at any time you feel that these feelings of guilt and drowning are getting the better of you, don’t hesitate to seek help. There will always be someone who wants to reach out to you, seek out those who love you, and consider talking to a professional.
Remember that you will not be able to help improve your environment if you do not start with yourself. Now you know how important your mental health is, and that you are not alone in this journey!