As a psychosocial trainer, I’ve come across many women who are either too inhibited or afraid to talk about themselves. A case in point is that of a woman who refused to speak out about her traumatic past during a session as she felt that other women in the room — instead of understanding her position — may judge and blame her for her situation. It was only after some other women in the group started opening up about their personal struggles and emotional conflicts that this lady could gather enough courage to express herself. Even then her words were measured.

It is not uncommon to see such cases in our society. Sadly, in a patriarchal society like ours, women quietly bear the brunt of wrongs committed by others and often end up compromising their mental health. Raising awareness about mental health issues, especially among women, is vital as healthy women are cornerstones of a healthy society.

Mental Health includes how we think, feel and behave. It’s all about the emotional, psychological and social well-being of a person and is as important (if not more) as physical health of a person.

Mental health is:

“… a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

According to a World Health Organisation report on mental health, globally, more than 300 million people suffer from depression, the leading cause of disability. More than 260 million are living with anxiety disorders. Many of these people live with both. A recent WHO-led study estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity. In fact, according to another report on Women’s Mental Health, it is predicted that by 2020, depression will become the second leading cause of global disability burden. It is twice as common in women already.

Gender plays an important role in determining an individual’s state of mental health. Moreover, women in patriarchal societies such as ours have to constantly fight against the three harmful emotions of guilt, self-doubt and inadequacy (or hopelessness) unlike their male counterparts. The main reason for their anxiety is their disadvantageous position, unjust expectations and parameters set by society; on the basis of which they are judged throughout their lives

Their roles as nurturer and homemaker are pre-defined by people around them and the society at large. Everything else in life for them is considered secondary.

Contributing factors also include reproductive hormones. Menstrual cycle, pregnancy, including pre and post-natal maternal stress, may lead to serious mental health issues, if not addressed at the early stages. Moreover, women in closed societies shun the idea of talking about their emotional conflicts due to socio-cultural reasons and thus ignore their mental well-being.

Domestic Violence and Sexual abuse are other major factors affecting women’s emotional health, especially in patriarchal set-ups. In India, despite greater awareness, new government policies and strict laws, sexual and domestic violence against women continues to be on the rise and a great cause of concern. The victims are afraid to talk about their traumatic experiences due to the fear of stigma and saving the family’s honour and consequently bear lifelong emotional scars.

However, things have been changing slowly and the New Age Indian Woman is challenging the stereotypical mindsets by stepping out to work, focusing on self and using her talent to positively contribute to society while ensuring her own financial independence.

Unfortunately, many of them, despite their education and modern outlook still internalise the negative feelings mentioned above with detrimental effect to their emotional well being. Their situation is aggravated due to double responsibilities of taking care of their families while having to pay equal attention to their highly demanding jobs.

This constant inner-conflict with the self not only lowers their own self-image, but also may lead them to silently suffer from anxiety disorders and depression. These unresolved negative feelings, in turn, also deeply impact their personal and professional lives. In a country like India where misogyny and discrimination against women is already high, women are doubly vulnerable and need support and encouragement from all quarters. Most of all, it is important for women themselves to recognise and understand that talking and opening up about their emotional issues are important steps to healing themselves and leading a better life.

Sujata Parashar is a novelist, social worker and founder of a psychosocial platform called Talk – it – Out (TiO)

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