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Mental Health

Hush No More: Let’s Talk About The Mental Health Of Women

Deepanwita Roy, Clinical Psychologist

We need to have more conversations about the mental health of women.

Gender can be a critical determinant of mental health. Mental health concerns affect women and men both but some problems are more common in women than men. While disorders like depression and anxiety are common across both genders, hormonal changes and societal factors play predominant roles where women are more vulnerable to mental health conditions. 

How understanding life stages helps us to understand women better?

Indian culture is quite orthodox. Preferences for a male child over a female, strict code of conduct for females, marriages being a must, the practice of dowry, the marriage of sacrosanct and permanent union, the subservient status of daughters-in-law at home, and primary roles of women being childbearing and child-rearing are some of the thought-provoking aspects of Indian culture. Thus, being a woman in India is not easy and the struggle begins quite early in their lives. 

Puberty (adolescence)

It starts right when a little girl hits puberty. A lot of changes happen to her body. The physical changes that a girl experiences include her first period, growth of breasts, acne, and sometimes changes in body weightThese physical changes meddle with her mental health leading to changes in emotions and behaviour. This leads to a lot of confusion as she deals with so many things at once that she often finds herself confined in a cocoon. 

While menstruation is a natural process, girls in India, till date, do not receive enough information and guidance to deal with it since it’s still a ‘hush-hush’ topic that cannot be discussed in public. Hormonal changes again are a stubborn part of a woman’s life. It’s potentially unsatisfying when your hormones go berserk. From weight fluctuations to acne to mood swings–hormones can completely mess a female’s emotional and physical mindset. But the problem is not with the hormones, but rather how she is treated at that point in time.

Often, if she is dealing with acne or sudden weight gain/loss, it gets ignored citing it to be ‘normal at this age.’ Hence, a professional’s opinion never comes to the picture. Same goes with mental health– frequent mood swings, PMS-ing, or even borderline depression goes ignored and unnoticed. The situations worsen when there are more adversities in life, such as stressful family circumstances or a lack of care and warmth. 

Finding out what lies behind puberty may help us understand the origins of emotional and behavioural problems in children and adolescents. Promoting healthy environments, supportive families, peers and community, as well as education and easily accessible health services may help the child develop social and emotional resources. 

Adulthood

The little girl soon becomes a woman through these processes and being a woman in India, her struggle grows even further. Her struggle can range from choosing a career in a male-dominated society and prioritising it above all.  Soon after, the pressure to get married and ‘settle down’ with their partner becomes quite evident. A woman is rarely asked whether she is ready for marriage or not! Once she gets married, the pressure starts coming from developing a healthy relationship with her in-laws, trying to manage and juggle between work and home.  Next comes an offspring. Once again, a woman is never asked whether she wants to be a mother or not!  No sooner than later, the woman finds herself in the middle of everything; while seeking perfection, it’s obvious that some become exhausted and fall into the “superwoman syndrome.” Yes, it is for real!

While women glide through the stages, isn’t it important for society to be more empathetic about her? Shouldn’t it consider her choices, respect her decisions, and let her live life on her own terms?

Climacteric period

The phase in a woman’s life that is by far considered to be the most difficult phase is the one that is least discussed. The climacteric period begins a couple of years prior to menopause and continues a few years after menopause. The period often overlaps with the timing of their children leaving home, the need to care for the elderly parents, changes in relationships with her husband owing to a loss of common goals as a couple or deceased family members. Needless to say, a woman’s physical body changes drastically! 

Consequently, loss of motivation in life, marital dissatisfaction, depression, and physical fatigue may accumulate, influencing wellness in a woman. Some even suffer from clinical depression, faced with their physical limitations and sense of running out of time. Though the severity varies, some may develop major conditions such as, menopausal (climacteric) disorders depending on their individual personality and socio-environmental factors, which requires medical attention.  

In order to help women prepare for their next life stage, it might be helpful to advise them to enjoy their hobbies and help them find opportunities to contribute to the community.  

Post-climacteric period

In this period, ovarian function is almost at its end and symptoms associated with ageing begin to grow. While the decline in physical strength and memories are evident; feeling anxious about physical symptoms and what is waiting for her in old age are quite common. Acceptance of one’s own ageing and death and conquering one’s mental issues are important subjects in this period. Screening for dementia and clinical depression on a regular basis also become important. 

Being aware of different life stages and paying attention to the situations and circumstances of women can enable her spouse, children, and other family members recognise problems that would have been easily gone unnoticed. A helpful remark and a kind affirmation from a mental health specialist may lead to improved wellness of women. 

Please speak to an expert for any health concern that society wants you to believe is ‘normal’ when it’s not! So, enough with the hush-hush. Take your health in your own hands and download the mfine app today to get quality care at your fingertips.

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