WOMEN AND MENTAL HEALTH IN INDIA

Gender is a critical discriminant of mental health and mental illness. The pattern of psychological distress and psychiatric disorder among women are different from those seen among men.

Women have a higher mean level of internalizing disorders while men show a higher mean level of externalizing disorder. Gender differences particularly in the rates of common mental disorders wherein women predominate. Women who abuse alcohol or drugs are more likely to attribute their drinking to a traumatic event or stressors and are more likely to have been sexually or physically abused than other women. Girls from nuclear families and women married at a very young age are at higher risk of attempted suicide and self-harm. Social factors and gender-specific factors determine the prevalence and course of mental disorders in female sufferers.

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Women and men are different not only in their obvious physical attributes, but also in there psychological makeup. There are actual differences in the way they process information and reacts to events and stimuli. Women and men different in the way they communicate, deal in relationships, express their feelings, and react to stress. Thus the gender differences are based in physical psychological and psychological attributes.

Gender roles have been culturally prescribed through the prehistoric cultures to the more civilized societies. The differences between men and women have been socially define and distorted through a lens of sexism in which men is assumed superiority over women and maintained it through domination. This has led to underestimating the role of a woman place in the diad of human existence.

It is necessary to understand and accept that women and men differ in biological attributes, needs and vulnerabilities.

MENTAL HEALTH AND MENTAL DISORDERS

Mental health is a term used to describe either level of cognitive or emotional well being or an absence of a mental disorder from perspectives of the discipline of positive psychology or holism. Mental health may include an individual’s ability to enjoy life.

Gender is a critical determinant of mental health and mental illness. The morbidity associated with mental illnesses has received substantially more attention than the gender specific determinants and mechanism that promote and protect mental health and Foster resilience to stress and adversity.

WOMEN MENTAL HEALTH: THE FACTS

* Depressive disorders accounts for close to 41.9 percent of the disability from neuropsychiatric disorders among women compared to 29.3 percent among men

* Leading mental health problems of the elderly are depression, organic brain syndromes, and dementias. A majority are women by violent conflicts, disasters and displacement are women and children

* At least one in five woman suffers rape or attempted rape in their lifetime.

All the female gender is associated with a favourable outcome, social consequences such as abandonment by marital families, homelessness, vulnerability to sexual abuse, and exposure to HIV and other infections contribute to the difficulties of rehabilitation of women. The prevalence rates for sexual and physical abuse of women with severe mental illnesses are twice those observed in the general population of women. In India, the absence of any clear policies for the welfare of severely ill women and the social stigma further compounds the problem stigma has been reported to be more toward women than men and also women caregivers become the target of stigma.

SUBSTANCE ABUSE

Although there are variations between countries, rates of substance abuse particularly abuse of alcohol, tranquilizers and analgesics are increasing around the world. Ladies are more likely to attribute their drinking to a traumatic event or a stress and women who abuse alcohol or drugs are most likely to have been sexually or physically abused than other woman. Significantly more major depression and anxiety disorders are found in female with alcoholism. Thus the profile of women with substance abuse problems different from that in male abuses. However increasing rates, services to assist women are limited.

Gender discrimination impacts all aspects of a woman’s life such as limited access to employment opportunities and qualities healthcare, which can result in poor health outcomes. Ladies who do not confirm to the socio cultural norms of their gender can face stigma, social exclusion and violence example ‘honour killings’. Women can hold multiple forms of minority status example due to their ethnicity.

Discrimination can we subtle or explicit conscious unconscious and permeates into all life domains and areas of society. Gender discrimination in the workplace includes harassment unequal pay and implementation of rules that puts one gender at a disadvantage.

Greater efforts are needed to reduce gender discrimination throughout society by raising awareness, level of new and better implementation of existing policies, more equal representation of females in position of power, as well as structures and environment that promote gender equality.

Ladies are exposed to a plethora of adverse experiences and environment that negatively impact on their health and well-being. Many of these factors are other gender specific example ‘gender discrimination’ or more common in woman example ‘child maltreatment’. This factor is intersect with many women experiencing multiple factors at the same time or across their life time, creating a lethal cocktail of risk that results in poor health, social and economic outcomes. There is an overwhelming need for co-ordinate prevention and intervention efforts that tackle these issues from societal, community and individual levels.

As a clinical and academic community we have a responsibility to raise awareness of these issues, ensuring that our structure and policies create a working environment and service that promote gender equality and women’s mental health.

– By Asha Verma

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