Women’s Mental Health

Women’s Mental Health

By Ishma Alvi.

All literature; from peer-reviewed journal articles to Op-Eds in women’s magazines, repeat the same thing: women are more likely to struggle with anxiety, mood, body image issues, disordered eating and a host of other mental health issues, relative to men. This is supported by the World Health Organization which reports that women predominate in presentations of depression and anxiety. They also reported that depression is twice as common and more persistent in women than men.

To properly understand the reasons for this skew, we will need to look beyond the individualized model of mental health, which suggests that mental health issues are related to personal history, personal experience and genetics. Individual factors, though definitely contributing to an individual’s well-being, should not be considered the sole variables that can impact mental health.

Systemic factors, including gender and the sociological factors contributing to gender disparity, can and do impact mental health.

Let’s stop and take a look at just some of the gender disparity that exists. There is wealth, education, and representation disparity across genders, with women falling on the ‘lower/lesser’ side of the scales in terms of income, rate and degrees of education and political, social and professional representation.

Women are also more likely to perform a higher rate of unpaid and largely invisible labour, on a daily basis. Women are usually less likely to receive a correct medical diagnosis and therefore effective treatment for health issues, relative to men. Women statistically experience more harassment, physical assault, sexual assault and domestic violence than men, but have lower rates of success in getting a conviction when they press charges.

Now, these factors have the potential to cause mental health issues in and of themselves, but also have a domino effect that can cause mental health issues to persist.

For example, let’s look at one of the gender-based contributors to mental health issues – lower income. A lower income can mean reduced resources, which in turn can impact autonomy and decision making, which can lead to stress, feelings of helplessness and a lowering of self-worth. Then, receiving a lower income for what work is visible and paid can further exacerbate that low self-worth, as well as heighten stress.

Seen through the broader lens of societal factors, it is fairly reasonable to conclude that women would be more vulnerable to mental health issues.

Let’s look at some proactive, responsive ways to manage wellbeing and mental health as well as ways to sustain both.

Self-trust and self-advocacy. Conscious and consistent self-trust, whether in the doctor’s office or in the boardroom, can go a fair way to aid in being heard. If you trust you, then you will trust your opinion and be more willing to voice it. An opinion that is voiced is much more likely to be heard, am I right? When you are heard, your issues are more likely to be seen and addressed. An important tip here – assertion is not automatically aggression. The two are different.  Assertion is the process of communicating your needs clearly and calmly while remaining empathic with the other’s standpoint.

Be conscious of mental labour.  Mental labour is the cognitive gymnastics we all do in our heads, that are often precursors to the actual physical part of the task. This includes planning, strategizing, allotting time and other resources etc. Being aware of the mental labour you do is not simply consciousness-raising on principle, but has a functional purpose. Once you are aware of the daily mental labour, you’ll be better equipped to manage it. This is because until you see a problem, you can’t fix it. Once you notice, start using the self-advocacy skills mentioned earlier to access support in managing that labour, such as delegating it.

Mind your language. I am referring to the language you use with yourself and about yourself. The way you talk to and about yourself goes a long way toward shaping how you see and treat yourself. This is not solely about using compassionate and respectful language with yourself but making that language specific and clear. For example, swapping ‘helpful’ for ‘should’.

Use self-compassion. This is directing care, respect and compassion toward yourself as you would toward anyone you love. Do keep in mind that for self-compassion to lead to sustained wellbeing, it needs to be proactive, rather than reactive. This means that you need to care about yourself and take measures that reflect that care, even when it feels too hard or on days you feel great. For example, blocking out time for scheduled self-care days, which you take regardless of how you are feeling when they roll around.

This Blog was written by Ishma Alvi. To learn more about Ishma’s experience, click here.

To book an appointment with Ishma, or one of our other Psychologists click here.

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