No woman consciously ignores her mental health. They are, however, conditioned to normalize harmful emotions instead of addressing them. Due to the fear of social alienation and resistance, health care facilities remain socially and economically inaccessible. The data may show that women are more susceptible to mental health issues but in no way, does it mean that they are weak. There is a dearth of awareness programs and educational curriculum that directly address or engage with women's mental health issues.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of reasons why women tend to ignore their mental health-
INABILITY TO EXPRESS THE FEELING
Due to the lack of awareness about mental health, women find it difficult to articulate what they are feeling and inadvertently repress them. You’d always find women saying things like, ‘Oh, maybe it’s just that time of the month’ or ‘I am unable to feel anything’ or “I just feel like crying all the time.”. According to Lancet Psychiatry’s report (2017)- the prevalence of depressive disorders stood at 3.9 percent among women, and 2.7 percent among men. Women indeed struggle with mental health comparatively more, but they also fail to pursue treatment. Perhaps, the first step towards understanding ourselves is to acknowledge that we might need help and that is okay.
RESTRICTIVE GENDER ROLES- WOMEN AS ‘CAREGIVERS’
‘Caring’ is a universal attribute, common across all genders. However, women across the world are assigned the role of caregiver, especially Indian women. The constant pressure of taking care of other people’s emotions doesn’t allow women to become an autonomous person who is ‘cared-for’. To ensure the wellbeing of others, women don’t express their anxieties and fears, repressing them further. While caring is incorrectly looked upon as a female trait, the role of a caregiver is emotionally exhausting, more so when women are juggling different roles all at once. Families and friends often fail to notice mental health issues as well.
LACK OF AWARENESS ABOUT THEIR BIOLOGY
Across the world, doctors have stated that the inherent nature of women, along with hormonal changes at different points of life, makes them more prone to depression and anxiety. Their biology and hormonal imbalance cause depression. During puberty, pregnancies, after pregnancy, after menopause, during menopause, women go through major hormonal changes. For instance, Postpartum depression is a serious medical condition that requires treatment. It occurs in about 10 to 15 percent of women. None of this is ever taught in educational spaces. Most of these important aspects of women's biology are only discovered upon personal observation or research. If reproduction is an integral part of our curriculum, why not give a more nuanced idea of women’s biology?
LACK OF SUPPORT FROM FAMILY
According to various medical institutions, men outnumber women when it comes to pursuing medical treatment for mental health issues. According to government psychiatrists, depression and anxiety are twice as common in females and affect 25 percent of women. What is frightening is that they don’t pursue treatment of any kind due to stigma and lack of support from husbands and in-laws. Women struggle to express their issues to their families due to the fear of being alienated or labeled incorrectly. Even if women reach out for help, they are often faced with resistance from their families. In cases of violent households, women tend to internalize these issues further and are unable to reach out to others for help.
Multiple factors negatively contribute to women’s mental health, often making it difficult for them to reach out for help. For instance, women are much more likely than men to live in poverty, causing anxiety regarding their future and financial instability (Read: Social independence). This also leads to decreased access to community and health care resources. Socio-economic issues can amplify feelings of negativity, low self-esteem, and lack of control over life. Another important factor is that the majority of women, who are working out of their homes, continue to handle home responsibilities as well- this leaves no time for them to even acknowledge their emotions.
SEXUAL ASSAULT AND DEPRESSION
Women who were emotionally, physically, or sexually abused as children or adults are more likely to experience depression at some point in their lives. Too often, these emotions are accompanied by harrowing experiences of trauma- experiences one doesn’t want to talk about. According to research, Thirty of the 50 survivors (60%) in India reported that they had not disclosed their experience to anyone and that they had not sought help. Women revealed a sense of helplessness, fear, and secrecy related to their experiences.