Women’s mental health is a topic that is surrounded by stigmas and uncomfortable taboos. Mental health in general is something that is often taken for granted or is ignored completely. This happens even more when discussing women’s mental health because of the scrutiny the female gender is often placed under. This article will focus on women’s mental health specifically, why it is important to take care of your mental health as much as it is your physical health, and the opposite end of the spectrum: mental illness.
Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.
– Henry David Thoreau
What is the Difference between Mental Health and Mental Illness?
Mental health, as described by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), is “our emotional, psychological, and social well-being”. The CDC describes mental illness as “conditions that affect a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, or behaviour”.
As terrible as it is, there are many stigmas that surround women’s mental health. Shame is one, in particular, that is more of an umbrella term. People may feel shame for having mental health issues, needing help, or even wanting help. This stigma needs to cease, as help in the form of therapy has saved so many lives. Many people deal with harassment because of the state of their mental health. Others deal with those who do not understand what they are going through. This stigma, in my experience, has been the hardest to deal with. Some want to help, though they do not know-how. Still, others don’t know how to help and don’t care to learn because they may take mental health for granted, even with those close to them struggling with theirs.
Types of Mental Illnesses
There are many different types of mental illnesses. This is caused by the many ways mental illness manifests within individuals. Mental health is relative to each person. What is a great struggle for some to overcome, maybe a small bump in the road for others? This all depends on how your body and brain process information, as well as stress.
Who Does Mental Illness Affect?
Now that the difference between mental health and mental illness has been established, it is important to know who is more likely to develop a mental health disorder. There is the main difference in the types of mental illness that can be found between genders. According to the American Psychological Association, women are much more likely to be burdened with anxiety and/or depression than of men. This type of mental struggle deals most often with internalized emotions which can leave the person feeling alone or depressed. Mental illness in men tends to take place in the form of antisocial disorders or the abuse of substances. This leads to externalized emotions, often in the form of aggression, impulsive decision-making, and even coercive behavior.
Stressors Related to Women’s Mental Health
As reported by Recovery Across Mental Health (RAMH), “women are more likely to have been treated for a mental health problem than men”. Twenty-nine percent of women have been diagnosed with mental illness compared to seventeen percent of men. What is the reason for this? The answer often comes back to one simple word: stressors.
What are stressors? A stressor is anything that causes stress within a person. This could be any force, action, situation, etc. Stress is important to the body. It helps us tic. However, when too much stress is introduced to our systems we can start to overload.
Think of it like this. My laptop is able to store data, and lots of it. I have hundreds of pictures from vacations, files of old school papers saved, and plenty of plans for my next articles. They are all saved on my laptop’s hard drive just waiting to be reopened when I need them. This becomes a problem when my laptop’s storage is so full that it cannot load properly. I may sit for minutes at a time waiting for a program to open. To make the computer work correctly again I have to make more room. I either have to delete some files or upgrade my data store.
Simple, right? Well, not so much when we are talking about a brain and a body. Much like the overloaded computer store, our brains can become foggy and our bodies can be made sluggish and depressed when we deal with an overbearing amount of stress constantly. We need to be able to process those feelings and memories completely. Instead of deleting files, your mind needs to process the data it has stored in your brain.
In this era, women are more focused than ever on their careers. Many of these same women have families, as well. The constant tug-of-war between both worlds can cause quite a lot of stress. Financial struggles, relationship issues, as well as any number of unforeseen circumstances can add to the problem, too.
The World Health Organization describes the gender-based stressors that a large number of women deal with-
“Gender 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 mental health risks.”
In other words, women and men have different taboos of what is acceptable between the social aspects of their lives, as well as the economic aspects. Women have been fighting for a place in society for so long, and still continue to do so. This could be a lower salary than a man of the same occupation, dealing with sexual harassment, etc. These types of stressors are much more prominent in a woman’s life than that of the opposite sex.
How to Avoid Mental Illness?
Sometimes mental illness cannot be avoided. There are many mental illnesses that are genetic. Bipolar and schizophrenia are only two of these genetic illnesses that can be hereditary. Most often, though, you can be careful of your mental health.
Try to avoid major stressors. If that cannot be arranged, make sure you plan time to relax and unwind after a hard day. Taking care of your body is another way to take care of your mind. Mayo Clinic says physical activity, a well-rounded diet, and plenty of sleep are all examples of easy ways to help keep your mental health in check.
If you feel as though you might need someone to talk to, therapy is always an option. Having a professional to vent to can be beneficial to you, as well as the people in your daily life. If any of your mental health struggles become too much, getting help is an important step. If you haven’t tried therapy already, your physician may suggest it. If there is a true problem, letting your doctor know is vital. They can then decide the best course of action to take.
Women’s mental health is real. It may not be a tangible object you can hold or look at, but it is real. Self-care isn’t only about bath bombs and mani-pedis. Self-care is also about developing habits that focus on maintaining a proper mental state. These simple things, like going for walks or journaling your thoughts, can save you from mental illness. Mental illness is not always unavoidable. If that is the case, there are options out there to help you.
There is no shame in caring about you enough to help yourself.