On Friday, let’s talk about mental health.
Photo by Timothy L Brock on Unsplash
This article has been contributed to us from our friends at Minds in Tune, and is one of several their team has written for Women’s History Month. You can read all of their articles over at mindsintune.co/whm19.
On the 8th of March, people around the world will acknowledge International Women’s Day — a day to celebrate the achievements of women and call for further progress toward gender parity.
Since the first IWD gathering over a century ago in 1911, the event has been a time for action, for unity, and for reflection. This has led to a lot of discussion about women’s experiences and struggles, but one thing that appears to be left out of most of these discussions is mental health.
Historically, mental health and discussion around it has been extremely stigmatised – especially when it comes to gender. In fact, the term “hysteria,” a mental disorder thought to have manifested in women that experts have thankfully left in the past, actually comes from the Greek words for uterus: “hystera.”
Pictured: you after finding out the term “hysteria” was used unironically by experts until 1980.
Photo by Gabriel Matula on Unsplash
This stigma is exactly what we here at Minds in Tune try to tackle every week on our radio show, and that’s why our host Diya invited her friend Nancy on our latest episode for a very special segment — and a very important discussion.
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- Gender contributes to mental health; women are more likely to have poor mental wellbeing. (Health Europa, 2018; Mayo Clinic, 2019; World Health Organisation, 2019)
- Our cultural attitudes lead to underreporting of poor mental health amongst all genders. (BBC News, 2016; Beyondblue, 2012)
- “Unequal sharing of care responsibilities,” online abuse and austerity are key contributors toward poor mental health in females. (Mental Health Europe, 2018; Mental Health Foundation, 2018)
- Domestic violence and sexual assault are also risk factors, but are under-detected by mental health services. (Agenda, 2016)
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Diya did some reading of her own beforehand, and brought a shocking statistic to the table to open our #IWD2019 discussion. According to Mayo Clinic, women are twice as likely as men to have depression and anxiety. On top of that, Nancy added that they’re also more likely than men to report their health as “poor.”
Gender is a critical determinant of mental health and mental illness.
When it comes to mental health, more women are struggling.
Photo by Nick Owuor (astro.nic.visuals) on Unsplash
The World Health Organisation also acknowledges that there is a gendered disparity in mental illness rates. “Gender is a critical determinant of mental health and mental illness,” states their website. “[It] determines the differential power and control men and women have over the socioeconomic 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.” In essence, men and women can have different levels of control over their exposure to certain mental health risk factors.
But is gender really the main thing impacting these numbers... or is it something else?
To answer that question, we have to acknowledge the cultural context surrounding both mental health and gender. This means accepting that we do live in a society where men and boys are often pressured to bury their emotions, and thus they may be less likely to report symptoms of mental health if they do occur.
This could skew those statistics, however, it’s also symptomatic of the gender roles that pervade our daily lives. Until we achieve greater gender parity and tackle the stereotype that links showing emotion with femininity despite this not being the case, there will always be at least some disparity in the numbers.
However, that isn’t the whole picture, as underreporting surrounding mental health issues isn’t an issue that only affects males. As, Diya brought up later in the discussion, there are many women and girls who live their lives on the autistic spectrum, but are never diagnosed or are diagnosed late in life.
Life without a diagnosis can feel extremely isolating.
Photo by Molly Belle on Unsplash
The UK has an organisation called the National Autistic Society who present a number of theories on why this could be on their website, including that the diagnostic tests for autism don’t quite work for females, and that women and girls are better at “masking or camouflaging their difficulties.” Coincidentally, the NAS’s website crashed recently after popular game show personality Anne Hegerty – “The Governess” on the Chase Australia – opened up about her late diagnosis with Asperger’s syndrome during her time on the British version of I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!
So, all up, there are several facets of our cultural views surrounding mental health that could be impacting those statistics aside from the actual prevalence of mental illness. However, our culture also contributes to underreporting of mental illness in women, so it evens out. In fact, as stated in the quote from the World Health Organisation earlier, this very culture could be leading to the actual increased prevalence of mental illness among females in the first place.
Diya and Nancy brought up several of these cultural risk factors in their discussion, and shared an important quote from Maria Nyman, the director of Mental Health Europe. “Each of us may experience mental distress for our own unique reasons,” Maria explains, “but women are more likely than men to experience stress, and unequal sharing of care responsibilities is very common: that’s why work-life balance measures can really make a difference for mental health and gender equality.”
Brisbane’s biggest cricket ground wouldn’t have enough seats for all the women in Brisbane who’ve been impacted by extensive violence.
Other contributing factors to the gendered mental health disparity are domestic violence and abuse, with online mediated spaces (such as social media platforms or comment sections) playing an increasingly bigger role in this area. According to the Mental Health Foundation, evidence “generally suggests” that our online culture contributes to the disparity, but more research needs to be conducted. This would make sense in the context of the many anecdotal reports surfacing that indicate new digital platforms and technologies – especially in the Internet of Things – are also creating new ways to exert control and power over one’s partner.
Away from screens, the situation isn’t looking much brighter: Diya and Nancy also discussed a report from Agenda called Hidden Hurt that includes many more disheartening statistics. The report found that one in 20 women have experienced “extensive” violence, and that over 75% of those women have experienced “life-threatening trauma.” Putting those figures into some real-world numbers, that would mean over 57 thousand women living in Brisbane, Australia – where Minds in Tune is based – have been impacted by extensive violence. To put that into further context: if they all decided to go to the Gabba – Brisbane’s biggest cricket ground – there wouldn’t be room for over 15 thousand of them.
The Gabba still wouldn’t have enough room for all the victims.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
We’ve established that the facts are grim, but what is being done about it? Unfortunately, mental health services, which are already under a lot of pressure, aren’t doing as much as they should for women, as domestic violence isn’t detected by them as much as it should be. That’s likely because – as the Hidden Hurt report from Agenda indicates – only half of the mental health trusts they questioned had a policy on asking women about domestic violence. Furthermore, only one trust had a women’s mental health strategy.
So, our culture is contributing to a gendered disparity in mental illness rates amongst males and females, and our mental health services need to improve to better aid the women who need them, but this International Women’s Day, you can help. Why not check in with your friends and family to do your bit in breaking down the mental health stigma — armed with some last advice from Diya and Nancy?
Time for a check in.
Photo by Farrel Nobel on Unsplash
“It’s really hard to ask these kinds of questions,” shares Diya, “especially if [your friend] isn’t ready,” so it might not be the easiest conversation to have. If your friend doesn’t want to share what’s going on with them, that’s completely okay. On the other hand, don’t panic if your friend starts sharing some heavy experiences with you. “Just be there and support them,” suggests Nancy, “so they know that someone cares.”
If you’re not feeling up to a personal conversation, there’s another conversation you can be having, too. You could continue Diya and Nancy’s conversation, and spread greater awareness about how mental health impacts women. After all, every conversation gets us all one step closer to creating a #BalanceforBetter.
Enjoy your International Women’s Day, however you choose to spend it!
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Loughlin is the executive producer of Minds in Tune. When not working on this project, writing for his personal blog, or making films, he can be found on Instagram. His handle is: @loughlinptrck.
Keep up with their blog to read more of their Women’s History Month articles, and tune in on radio to new episodes of Minds in Tune every Friday at 6 p.m. AEDT on SYN Nation — or catch up in your preferred podcast app. For more Minds in Tune content, check out our posts from @mindsintune on most social media platforms.
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P.S. To the people who will ask: yes, there is an International Men’s Day, it is acknowledged on the 9th of November, and we’ve produced a discussion for that one as well. See you then!
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