Married women mental health: In our society, women are often conditioned to prioritise their families post marriage. As a result of this, women put their needs on the backburner. This neglect of their emotional wellness ends up having repercussions for not just married women but their loved ones too.
Data by India’s crime bureau suggests that as many as 63 housewives in India die by suicide every day in 2018. This figure, one of the many available to us, tells us why the mental health of married women is an urgent issue that needs our undivided attention. We need to discuss the many elements in play here. Is it easier for them to discuss these issues? To seek help? Or do they have to carry the burden of mental distress quietly lifelong?
As a part of SheThePeople’s first Mental Health Summit on October 10, REFRAME, Vandana Kohli, Pallavi Barnwal and Rhea Raghav Dubey sat down with Yamini Pustake Bhalerao to shed some light on various aspects of Indian married women’s mental health.
In India women often face a lot of scrutiny from society after marriage. They are expected to fit into the mould of an ideal daughter-in-law, which means their every act- how they treat their in-laws, how they raise their kids, what they wear and what they don’t society has an opinion about everything, and then some more. According to filmmaker and author Vandana Kohli, “Anybody who feels that they are being watched all the times would come under tremendous strain. I don’t, in fact, think it is just the women, I think it is just anybody who would be under that kind of scrutiny- anyone who is independent-minded, anyone who is looking for independent self-expression.” Kohli added that this ordeal often leads to a sense of entrapment and being confined, which is a marker for depression in due course.
Intimacy is very very important in relationships, I don’t know why we downplay it so much: Rhea Raghav Dubey.
Shifting the conversation to the identity crisis that married women often face, columnist and certified sexuality coach Pallavi Barnwal said that womanhood often takes a backseat for women after marriage. “They forget who they were before marriage, the identity is dissolved.” She further said that marriage is seen as an achievement which means that women basically have to strive for it and not live it.
To this, Rhea Raghav Dubey, who works as a therapist, added that no person’s whole life should be based on one relationship that they get into. “Women get so caught up in the roles that they play – am a mother, am a wife, am a mami, am a chachi. Our culture has so many prescribed roles that identity (of women) does get lost, along with individual desire and ambition,” adding that this does add up to the mental load.
For the mental and emotional health of our society, children and of families, we have to include more stakeholders, because everybody is a stakeholder: Vandana Kohli
In our country marriages are often seen as an alliance between a man and a woman who intends to raise a family together. With a focus on caring and providing for other family members, Indian couples often struggle to nurture emotional intimacy in their relationship. For men, it is difficult to open up emotionally due to their conditioning. Both Barnwal and Kohli agreed that it is important to bring in men in the dialogue around women’s mental health. “If we want any kind of change, for the sake of individuals, I won’t even say men and women, we have to broaden the dialogue. Unless we do that, we are going to be in our own little well, going around in circles, the same people talking the same things,” Kohli said.
Let alone men, women often do not discuss their mental health with other women. According to Kohli women’s sense of pride often gets in the way. The second thing that gets in the way according to her is loyalty. ” A woman may be having a problem with only one member of the family, but were she to speak about it then her husband would be reflected in a bad light,” she said, adding that for her to bad-mouth one person would be like bad-mouthing the entire clan.
According to Dubey, women are often brought up to believe that everyone else comes before them. “Her time and her schedule doesn’t belong to her, it belongs to the family and it becomes hard to find individual support,” she observed, also adding, “There is also this idea that ‘since the family is on me if things are going wrong, it is my fault.'”
The idea is to say, how can I stand on my own, how can I have my own locus of consciousness, while not undermining the other person: Pallavi Barnwal
Another important factor that impacts women’s mental health is how they perceive their own bodies. Due to ageing and childbearing women often feel that their bodies no longer live up to the social standards of beauty. According to Barnwal, the pressure to look a certain way does impact women. Recalling her own experience as a mother, she said, ” I had no idea where to and how to reach out to someone to talk about ‘body imperfections.’ It took me so much of time to realise that my ceasarian scars are going to be there forever and am okay with that…There was a time when I would compare with how I used to look and that also leads to a detachment from sex because for us it has to do with lust, and when don’t feel pleasure in my body, how can I share that with someone?”
Watch the entire discussion here: