March is Women’s History Month and yesterday was International Women’s Day. This is a great opportunity to talk about women and mental health. Women face different risk factors when it comes to mental illness, as well as different obstacles and different experiences. This is due in part to socio-economic, cultural and societal factors.
These differences extend to treatment as well. One part is that when it comes to gender and mental health women are more likely to seek mental health treatment and to be open about their mental health concerns.
I began writing a blog post about this last week, and stated that I see this as an opportunity for women to be leaders in mental health awareness and to help change perceptions and combat stigma.
After an hour or two, I reread what I had and realized I was taking on the wrong stance. I had it backwards.
Women are socialized from a young age to more readily accept and express emotions. We are seen as the more empathetic counterpart to men and we are taught that being nurturing and supportive is part of our role. This has an effect on both women’s and men’s mental health. In contrast, men are taught that emotions can be a sign of weakness and expected to manage things on their own, often suppressing feelings and being hesitant to seek out help. These societal precepts are changing yet they are still felt in the way we teach our children, whether actively or subconsciously. It is definitely more acceptable for women to express and share emotion and this can closely tie in to mental health.
I used this as a reason to put women at the forefront of mental health awareness, to position us as supports for the men in our lives and to task us with encouraging them to seek support and to be more candid in expressing what they are feeling. I quickly realized I was putting an undue burden on women, giving us the whole of the responsibility for how men are taught and socialized as well as the responsibility to change this.
Women already have to deal with emotional labour that can be draining and counter to our own mental health. A website called www.thebodyisnotanapology.comdefines emotional labour as such, and I think it is very apt:
“Emotional labor is the exertion of energy for the purpose of addressing people’s feelings, making people comfortable, or living up to social expectations. It’s called “emotional labor” because it ends up using – and often draining – our emotional resources.”
With this in mind, we need to understand the ways women are asked often to perform our societal role and to mind other people’s emotions above our own. This article outlines many of the ways this can happen and I strongly suggest giving it a read:
When it comes to women’s mental health, we need to realize the societal pressures we face as women and how these play into our emotional well being. While men can take women as an example and learn that it is safe and greatly beneficial to share, to seek support and to get treatment for mental health concerns, it is not up to women to solve these issues and to become pillars for the male gender. Everyone plays a part in mental health awareness and it is important to remember the complexity and nuances of this issue. That being said, society as a whole needs to change so that everyone is encouraged to be honest and open and everyone knows it is a sign of strength to seek out support.