Find out how women differ from men in their coping strategies and the ways it affects their mental health.

 Find out how women differ from men in their coping strategies and the ways it affects their mental health.
  • An educated and smart woman born and brought up in a big city commits suicide because of a failed relationship (60% of the world’s suicides are from Asia). 
  • In a small and remote village, a girl is ostracised and suffers in a small dirty hut, isolated from her family because she is on her period. (Nearly 60,000 cases of cervical cancer deaths are reported every year from India, two-thirds of which are due to poor menstrual hygiene).
  • Somewhere in the country, a teenage girl dies while trying to abort an unwanted pregnancy. (Some 68,000 women die of unsafe abortion annually, making it one of the leading causes of maternal mortality.)
  • A mother kills her newborn girl child and then kills herself. (According to Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi, 2000 girls are killed every day in India)
  • We come across such incidences practically every day. This kind of news is not typical of any particular region or state; they can occur in places far from each other geographically, yet connected. Connected by the deaths of women suffering from health issues, both physical and mental, who did not or could not reach out to their loved ones.

According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, the percentage of women suffering from mental health issues and showing symptoms of anxiety and depression is much higher than men. The reason behind this is that while men generally direct their tensions outward, women, unfortunately, do not speak up and tend to blame themselves for the problems, and feel worthless and unwanted. 

In spite of all these problems, India does not have a clear health policy for the benefit of women who suffer from these issues. In many cases, rape victims are abandoned by their families. Exposure to HIV and other diseases makes it very difficult for the rehabilitation of these women. 

The Indian Parliament passed the Mental Health Care Act, 2017 and some major revolutionary changes like easy access to discrimination-free health care and decriminalisation of suicide. Unfortunately, there is no proper agency or woman’s body to check if these laws for women’s protection are being implemented. 

Why do women suffer more?

Women suffer more not because they are the weaker sex, but because they are different from men physically and psychologically. Women’s brains are differently ‘wired’ than men. The way women think, react to situations, communicate, express themselves, and deal in relationships is different from the way men do and this is same the world over. 

In India, unfortunately, a woman’s thinking is controlled by not only the men in her life but society as a whole, including other women. 

Women today not only take care of their homes but also manage their work outside. In such a scenario, their anxiety increases as they are at the receiving end at both their home as well as their workplace. 

The most common reasons that make a woman more vulnerable to depression are:

  • Hormonal changes due to menstruation, pregnancy, or childbirth

Many women are affected by hormonal changes during menstruation. They may undergo mood and behavioural changes and it is especially difficult when they are isolated from the family without any emotional support. Hormonal changes also take place during pregnancy and childbirth. 

Around 1 in 7 women suffer from postpartum depression; most cases are because of financial problems or the birth of a daughter instead of a son. Menopause too can be a reason for depression. 

  • Abusive relationships with partners

Women in India generally refuse to speak out against their abusive partners. This is generally out of fear of what ‘society will say’. They tend to hide the truth from their family, not wanting to disturb their lives. This deprives them of the emotional support they rightfully deserve. 

  • Stress due to body issues

Body shaming due to excessive weight also causes a lot of anxiety amongst women. They can easily get affected by the negative comments.

  • Bad atmosphere at the workplace 

Women with the same job profile as men and with the same workload are usually paid less. They often suffer sexual exploitation silently for fear of losing their job. 

  • Low self-esteem and no family support

This problem is especially prevalent in India because women are raised to be tolerant from the time they are born. They are made to feel that suffering is in their destiny. This lack of support leads to them having a low self-esteem, which can lead to depression.

  • Being victims of sexual violence

The rate of violence against women is estimated to be anywhere between 16% and 50%. As per a report, 1 in 5 women has suffered from rape or molestation. The worst part is that the victims are frequently made to feel guilty of having caused the crime. 

Signs and symptoms of depression

The most common signs one should look out for are:

  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Irritability and anger
  • Excessive crying and severe mood swings
  • Appetite problems (either eating less or in excess)
  • Avoiding family and friends
  • Unable to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • No interest in activities that were once pleasurable
  • Feelings of worthlessness, shame, and guilt
  • Recurring suicidal thoughts

Can the situation be remedied?

Yes, one can change the situation. Women are regularly abused by those near to them (and often strangers), yet they are ignorant of this abuse. Women need to overcome the fear of being labelled for their emotions. Identifying and accepting the problem is key to the solution.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can cause health to deteriorate if not treated in time by getting professional help. So educate yourself, pay heed to your brain, and be aware of your rights. Make yourself economically independent; this will enhance your capacity to resist exploitation. Build and reach out to a support system that will stand by you in your hour of need.

The country is doing its job at the social, economic, and legal level to improve mental health and bring about a change in the lives of Indian women, but it is not enough. A loved one who suffers from depression may not realise or acknowledge that they have a problem. It is your responsibility to be observant and get timely professional help for them.