According to the 2018 National Crime Report Bureau (NCRB) data, out of the 1.3 lakh people who committed suicide in India in the said year, 22,937 were housewives. This accounts for the second-largest number of suicide cases in 2018, when categorized by profession, most being daily wage earners. While there are measures taken to increase employment and to deal with farmers or low wage earners’ issues, is the society even addressing the mental health crisis among Indian housewives?
What is forcing so many homemakers in India to take such an extreme step? What is keeping them from taking help? More importantly, why are these questions not raised and debated often? Does our society not care about women’s mental health? Or is it too big a taboo for everyone to discuss openly, even in this day and age? To answer these questions and to draw further attention towards these alarming statistics, SheThePeople.TV had a conversation with a clinical psychologist, who practices Logotherapy and is also a published author; Dr Prerna Kohli.
The major reasons behind housewives committing suicides
A 2018 Lancet report says that some of the major reasons why housewives in India commit suicide are arranged and early marriage, young motherhood, low social status, domestic violence, and economic dependence. In addition to this, unaffectionate marriages and dowry-related issues also cause depression, which may lead women to end their lives.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder or postpartum depression is as serious of problems as major depression. Just like depression, there is a risk of suicide and they should be getting help as soon as possible.
According to Dr Kohli, early marriage or marriage without consent can often stir up feelings of resentment amongst the couple, which can lead to depression or even cases of domestic violence. “One of the major reasons behind domestic violence is the inability to manage extreme emotions, like anger and there is also a high correlation between substance abuse and domestic violence,” says she, adding that nothing justifies domestic abuse.
However, many biological factors, apart from these social issues, make women more prone to depression. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder, postpartum depression, post-traumatic disorder and other mental health issues are still not considered serious problems that need medical attention. “Menstruation and pregnancy have biological effects on a women’s body. The changes in hormones are closely related to premenstrual dysphoric disorder or postpartum depression. While every woman experiences these changes, not all of them fall prey to these problems. Someone who might have a history of mental health issues in their family is more likely to develop a premenstrual dysphoric disorder or postpartum depression. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder or postpartum depression is as serious of problems as major depression. Just like depression, there is a risk of suicide and they should be getting help as soon as possible,” says Dr Kohli.
Why can’t housewives break their silence and take stand for themselves?
Just like mental health, discussing marital issues out in the open remains a taboo in India. Patriarchy conditions women to “adjust” in their marriages, as a result of which women often tolerate domestic abuse, demands for dowry in silence. For instance, in the 2018 Oxfam India survey said more than 50 percent of the participants said that it was acceptable to harshly criticise a woman if she failed to care well for the children. 33 percent participants also said that it was acceptable to beat a woman for the same reason. While this silence may save them from social scrutiny, it takes a toll on their overall well-being.
Even though there is legal and medical helo available for housewives who are victims of domestic violence and depression, they do not talk about it or reach out for help. Dr Kohli explains, “It is difficult for a lot of us to end a relationship. Victims of domestic violence experience conflict between a lot of emotions and reasoning. One of the prominent reasons is the financial dependence the housewife has on her partner and she will likely face financial hardship if she decides to leave. One other reason could also be the religious, cultural or familial pressures that make her believe that it is her duty to stay with her partner.”
When a person feels they are unable to reach out to someone to share about what is going on in their minds, it becomes extremely difficult to fight such tendencies. The thing about depression is, the person finds it very difficult to ask for help.
Speaking about the role of families in forcing women to be silent about their depression, Dr Prerna Kohli says, “While the victim is already going through an emotional upheaval, it is upon the family to handle the situation. The victim might feel the pressure through the family to not talk about it. Family might try to make the victim feel like they did something wrong for which they deserved it, or reason that it happens to everybody else. It is important that families handle the situation better and let the victim speak for herself,”
Due to the lack of support, women remain silent victims, feeling as if there is no way out for them from their current situation. Could this feeling of helplessness and hopelessness be the reason why so many housewives take such an extreme step? “Suicide is a big risk when it comes to depression. A person who is going through depression might have suicidal thoughts and tendencies. When a person feels they are unable to reach out to someone to share about what is going on in their minds, it becomes extremely difficult to fight such tendencies. The thing about depression is, the person finds it very difficult to ask for help. Now, going to a psychiatrist or psychologist also comes with a stigma. What is important here is for the people around them to identify warning signs and get them to professional help,” says Dr Kohli.
What can be done to encourage women to take a stand for themselves?
Dr Prerna Kohli rightly says that abuse in any form (physical, sexual, mental, or emotional) can be scarring. She adds, “Abuse can lead to self-esteem issues, depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.”
While families of victims of abuse and discord need to shed their stigmatised approach to marital issues and mental health, what can women do when there is no help available to them?
This is what Dr Kohli suggests, “First, it is important to get yourself out of danger. Keeping the emotions inside is doing even more damage. So, confide in someone you trust. It is important to address these issues with a professional, as a psychologist or counselor will help you process your emotions and build up strength.”
Rudrani Kumari is an intern with SheThePeople.TV.