The suffering of women is trivialized, dismissed as nonspecific and associated with weakness. Understanding the social context is necessary to end this.
When silence is synonymous with strength, and the complaint of weakness, there is a problem. When society is divided in such a way that distinct roles are purely pragmatic, there is a problem. That the suffering of women is trivialized or labeled nonspecific, and that of men taken into account and well-studied, is a problem. That the nature of women and their life events such as, for example, pregnancy, is “a matter of women” and not “a matter of society”, is a problem. I would say that it is the same problem all the time.
THE IMPORTANCE OF TALKING ABOUT FEMALE MENTAL HEALTH
For those who do not know the theory of substance that Aristotle enunciated, it is about what he understood as a compound of matter. That is, what being is in itself, what is indissoluble? Thus, he explained that what he called accidents could occur on this substance, and these could change the shape of matter, but not the substance itself. Well, this has reminded me of the problem you were talking about.
The suffering of women has existed forever, this could be the substance to be analyzed, what happens is that it has gone through all kinds of forms throughout time. It has been minimized, it has been disguised as various pathologies, when in many cases it comes from a social or family imbalance. And the worst: he has been silenced.
Foucault pointed out: “I have not wanted to write the history of that language, but rather the archeology of that silence.”
Many times I think that the story of the woman has to do precisely with what was kept silent rather than with what was said. That is why it is important to give voice to discomfort when it remains silent. Perhaps it is time to think about narrating, telling without judging, or over diagnosing.
With these preambles, what do we have left? What is the current reality? It seems that, as Judith Barwick put it, the insistence that femininity develops out of frustrated masculinity necessarily turns femininity into a kind of “normal pathology.”
And if being a woman does not necessarily mean being sick, what makes a woman suffer? Who decides what is suffering and what is normality? Who draws the line between being a healthy woman and a sick? Why is this line being drawn? Is there something else, seemingly unnoticed, behind all this? And, even more relevant, we should ask ourselves how this affects our mental health.
HOW IS WOMEN MENTAL HEALTH ADDRESSED?
As a female mental health professional, I must say that many mistakes have been made and continue to be made when it comes to the psychiatric and psychological treatment of women. The first of these errors has been thinking of women from a masculine standard. In other words, studying the woman as a human being who is not a man.
This is so? Can we really understand the female condition in that way? Can we conceive of the sexes as two opposite entities? Is there a real binary? Can the vital events that are proper and exclusive to women, such as the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, childbirth and menopause be studied from the opposite of what happens to men?
Precisely derived from this fact, using this double standard that I mention, a pathologization of the natural events of the lives of women appears. Ours is the “other”, which deviates from the norm or normality, if you prefer. This has led to labeling as pathological processes for the mere fact of being different from the canon established from man.
We have been considered “disturbed” or weak, for example, because sensitivity is a sign of weakness. Irrational, unwieldy, changeable, dominated by our hormones. We are biologically difficult to measure or quantify due to the high variability posed by the biological changes that operate within us… We represent the emotional that antagonizes the rational, with its negative and positive connotations respectively.
THE ROLE OF GENDER ROLES IN MENTAL HEALTH
The second of the errors has been that, in addition to validating this binarism, it has been studied taking into account only the difference of sex and not of gender when, in any case, the suffering of the woman would not be dictated by the fact of being a woman biologically but because of the social response to this fact.
Sex roles, of women and men, have been fueled by notable differences throughout history. Today, although women are thought of as equals, they do not have effective equality. The role of women continues to imply on many occasions a work overload, great responsibilities and a lack of power.
What I mean is that the virulent double standard of male-female behavior carries with it a few attributes:
- The male conventionality is related to action, fighting, finding solutions and pleasure.
- However, female conventionality implies inaction, submission, resignation and dissatisfaction.
This means that traditionally, and implicitly, women have not been supposed to ‘succeed” as a priority objective, but rather have been assigned more specific caregiving roles that in turn allowed their counterparts to succeed. Opposite sex. And if, if necessary, the woman achieves this success, it continues to be a failure if she has not succeeded in “everything”.
For example, if you succeed in the professional field, you will have failed if you have neglected to do so with the upbringing of your children or their physical appearance. It is as if certain achievements were not allowed for him if he had not satisfied his obligations: domestic life, raising children.
The ‘successful” woman is confronted with two possible destinies: either she chooses not to be a biological mother (but not because she does not want to, but because she is prevented from doing so, which will probably entail emotional stress) or she chooses domestic and work overload.
NO, WOMEN DO NOT HAVE WORSE MENTAL HEALTH THAN MEN
This impacts on mental health, it is what makes there is an overrepresentation of women in this field of psychiatry. The domestic put at the service of anxiolytics such as Valium® so that we can withstand the pressure. Better not mention the shortage of women who occupy leadership positions, blamed for spending time away from their children or criticized when their behavior departs from the attributes of femininity and is considered, for example, hostile instead of strict or rigorous.
The World Health Organization (WHO) relates the mental symptoms suffered by women with ‘specific risk factors such as gender roles, stress factors, negative life experiences, gender violence, socioeconomic disadvantage, the low level of income and income inequality and the indefatigable responsibility of caring for others”.
WHO estimates that “the lifetime prevalence rate of violence against women ranges between 16% and 50%” and that one in five women suffers a rape or attempted rape in her lifetime.
I would wonder if we really suffer more symptoms or is it that men do not necessarily have a pathological diagnosis due to the alterations or problems that they manifest. Where are the dysfunctional and antisocial behaviors? Where are the addictions that are mostly represented by male subjects?
Indeed, the widespread belief that women had worse mental health has been shown to be false, and it is sufficiently proven that men and women simply have different mental health profiles.
In addition, we should not draw conclusions from studies that measure the prevalence of mental health diagnoses by sex based exclusively on the people who consult , which in no case will account for the total population. In other words, it cannot be determined that men need less psychiatric or psychological attention by the fact that they consult less.
On the other hand, women have been related to a greater extent with certain symptoms such as emotional stress, anxiety and “unhappiness”. Often times, our complaints in the office are classified as “unspecific”.
But are there really “nonspecific complaints from women” or are we as professionals responsible for this misnomer? That is, are these “unspecific complaints” the consequence of not speaking what is necessary in an interview with a woman and therefore not getting enough information to allow us to understand her suffering? Do we lack interest, capacity and time? Is it better to leave things as they are, as some would say?
SEXISM, A RISK FACTOR FOR MENTAL HEALTH
Women have experienced a harmful stressor that men have not experienced: sexist treatment.
This was concluded in 2000 by researchers Elisabeth A. Klonoff, Hope Landrine and Robin Campbell. And that would be the reason why women had more “depressive, anxiety and somatic symptoms” than men: that they “have experienced a harmful stress factor that men have not suffered, sexist treatment.”
Women who had experienced “frequent or violent sexism” had significantly more symptoms than men or other women whose experience of sexism was less.
Does this force us to medicate ourselves more? We must not forget that there is precisely a higher prevalence rate in the use of anxiolytics by women.
What happens in a psychiatry consultation so that a woman receives a pharmacological prescription instead of being directed to psychotherapy?
Is psychotherapy, the engine of change and individual, interpersonal and social questioning, something threatening to the foundations on which our society rests?
In my opinion, psychotherapy will allow us to reflect and, where appropriate, modify certain ideas, beliefs and behaviors that obey a social construct in which very frequently the transmitted feminine role , of daughters learning to survive as they have seen their mothers survive and these to the grandmothers, it has been a great discomfort and psychological suffering for the woman.
It is very difficult to imagine ourselves without sacrificing ourselves (or even admitting that we want it) for others. To make this transition, which in many cases clashes with the family and social mandate, psychotherapy is recommended. But psychotherapy shouldn”t be threatening; as Hermann Hesse said, it is just something that helps to make one”s interior visible.
4 STEPS TO THE CHANGE TOWARDS BETTER MENTAL HEALTH FOR WOMEN
1. ANALYZE THE SOCIOCULTURAL CONTEXT.
Mental symptoms are mostly the result of the clash of our subjectivity with others during interpersonal relationships. And all this occurs in the context of a society and influenced by social, political and cultural determinants.
2. UNDERSTAND THE ROLE OF THE OTHER.
These determinants lead us to think about psychic distress based on what we attribute severity to.
The other, as an interlocutor of oneself, plays an important role, tolerates or ridicules one”s own discomfort at all times.
Could this be one of the reasons why we need to think that ours is depression and not a simple sadness, to be heard by the other?
3. PROMOTE THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE PROFESSIONAL.
Mental health professionals unwittingly exercise our own violence, whether we know it or not.
We should be concerned first of all about the subjective repercussions on the biography of each one. The freedom, tolerance and plurality of society have a direct impact on people”s symptoms and their future.
4. A NECESSARY SOCIAL CHANGE.
We live in a society that does not tolerate any manifestation of sadness and is obsessed with the idea of well-being. Hence the need for a transformation of mental health professionals and of society in general.
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