March 8th is a day when we celebrate everyone who identifies as a woman. Womanhood is a beautiful experience and a world without women is not complete. We bring a lot of splendor, color, and light to the spaces we’re in. We are mothers, sisters, friends, and aunts – the social fabrics of society. A woman means something to someone.
This year’s theme is #BreakTheBias which speaks to the fight for gender equality and elimination of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. We have come a long way in fighting for women’s rights and there’s still so much to do – which is why we must never stop advocating for equality. It’s not any different when it comes to mental health as women are disproportionately affected than men.
- More than 1 in 5 women has struggled with a mental health condition in the past year.
- Women are twice as likely to be more affected by depression, bipolar disorder, general anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress, eating disorders, and body dysmorphia than men.
- The occurrence of serious mental illness is higher in women (7.0%) than in men (4.2%). A serious mental illness causes disabilities.
What affects women’s mental health?
- Biological factors:
Hormonal imbalance plays a huge role in women’s mental health. Low levels of the female hormone, estrogen, lead to even lower serotonin levels (the hormone of well-being) which results in anxiety, irritability, depression, mood swings, lack of concentration, fatigue, and restlessness. High levels of estrogen can also cause the same mental health issues.
Specific hormone-related imbalances are known to cause anxiety and depression. These include endometriosis, PCOS, dysmenorrhea (extremely painful menstruation), infertility, menopause, peri-menopause, postpartum, and thyroid issues.
- Social factors:
Societal gender roles placed on women can cause severe stress. These expectations include taking on household responsibilities, child-care, spousal support, care for the sick and elderly – while still managing jobs and businesses.
The normalization of the sexualization of women and girls in culture and media affects their self-image and healthy development. There are so many unrealistic expectations of what women should look like, which can lead to esteem issues, eating disorders and depression as reported by the American Psychological Association.
Brutality and violence towards women add to their mental health problems. Micro-aggressions like getting cat-called or harassed on the street can lead to anxiety and panic attacks. The United Nations reports that at least 1 in 3 women has experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence or both at least once in their life (30 percent of women aged 15 and older). Depression and anxiety rates are higher in women who have experienced violence.
Warning signs of poor mental health in women
Even though both men and women experience the same mental health conditions, the symptoms may present themselves differently. Here are key things to look out for in women;
- Intensified mood swings that are persistent
- Sudden personality changes that can’t be explained
- Increased feelings of sadness and hopelessness
- Talking or thinking about suicide
- Low energy for tasks and responsibilities
- Engaging in drug and alcohol abuse
- Hostility, abuse, or violence towards others
- Irritability and/or constant aggression
- Loss of appetite and dramatic weight loss/gain
- Lack of interest in things you’d enjoy
- Living in constant fear, worry, or paranoia
- Physical illnesses like body aches, digestive issues, headaches, ulcers, inflammation
- Withdrawal from socialization
- A lack of motivation and poor concentration
How women can achieve better mental health
- Adopting healthy lifestyle habits.
The secret to good and stable mental health lies in everyday routines and habits. We are a total of what we constantly do. I know life can become overbearing such that you feel like there’s no time for self-care especially when everyone demands a piece of you.
Approach self-care as a preventative measure to avoid burnout and illnesses as opposed to it being a curative measure – something you think about when it’s too late and you’re already dealing with an illness. Start with simple habits like going for a daily walk, eating healthier, doing things that make you happy, hydrating, limiting your screen time, playing with your children, making time for friends, reading a chapter of a book, affirming yourself, meditating for 5 minutes, etc.
Only you know what your mental health needs more of; it could be letting go of some things and adopting others, resting more, learning to say “no”, setting boundaries, changing environments. Do an honest assessment of what you think you should do to get you to the point of good mental health.
- Letting go of the need to be superwoman.
There’s no trophy for running yourself to the ground for trying to do everything and be everything to everyone. There is only a risk for diseases and an early grave. You don’t have to be superwoman; delegate and lean on your community for help. Ask and keep asking for help around the house, with the kids, at work…. everywhere. If there’s someone else who can help you, let them do it. If there’s an easier way to do something, take it. Balance is only achieved when you have the support you need.
You are not a bad mom for leaving the kids at their grandparent’s house for the weekend so that you can take some time off to yourself. You are not a bad spouse for asking to have a little breathing space to yourself – by going out with your friends. You are not a bad employee for taking leave to take care of your sick child. Superwoman is always tired from saving the day – don’t aim to be like her.
- Seek professional help
Women are good at talking about things and releasing them, unlike men. However, there’s a stigma associated with seeing a therapist or counselor for mental health struggles which affects both genders. This is often rooted in culture and religion where mental health issues are seen as weaknesses, curses, or passing clouds. The solutions are praying or holding on until change comes.
Struggle is not synonymous with strength. Don’t wait to see how much you can endure to know how strong you are; you might break in the process. This is an invitation to talk to us and we’ll help and equip you with the right coping strategies for mental health issues. Women are magnificent beings and we deserve the best of everything, including good mental health.