By: Natasha Archary
Mental health has for a long time been ignored. It’s impossible to feel empathy for something that is invisible. It’s equally as difficult speaking about something that is often associated with weakness. The stigmas linked to mental health issues are an enormous contributor to why people experiencing some form of depression, anxiety or stress choose to suffer in silence.
This article isn’t meant to be an advocate for either gender, but gender does play a role in how people responds to mental health issues. Stress. It’s a word that is thrown around everyday.
“I’m so stressed out.”
Usually when we hear someone utter these words, we offer a consoling word or two, “Ag chom, hang in there. Things will get better.” And then we go on our merry way. Never taking the time to actually delve deeper than is socially acceptable.
Men and women respond to stress triggers differently, with men adopting a “fight or flight” response. This is when they either prepare themselves for the impending stress by conserving their energy. It’s a natural and automatic response in humans that has for years been thought to be vital to our survival. Women on the flip side of the coin, adopt a “tend and befriend” approach. In other words, women try to better understand the situation, put themselves in the other person’s shoes or get to the heart of why the stress is present.
It is this difference that sets most women up for a lifetime of mental health issues. The quest for perfection forces women to mask the reality and put up a front. In African countries, cases of anxiety and depression – two leading mental health illnesses – are on the rise among women. This can be tied to the difficult economy, gender roles and violence.
In South Africa, 14.5% of the women in a study on Psychological distress among women, said they had been physically abused by their intimate partner. A further 24% said they faced verbal and emotional abuse. What’s more, 65% of women reported anxiety.
The following were cited as reasons for the above statistics:
- Women experiencing infertility
- Women who had miscarried or experienced stress, anxiety or sadness related to giving birth
- Post-natal depression
- Abusive relationships
- Poor living conditions
- Little to no income
- Insecurity in the ability to provide a safe and stable home environment for children
- Gender roles and double standards
- Gender wage gap
The list goes on, but these were the Top 10 reasons by the women in the study. Such stress affects women from all walks of life, in different ways. Single women, unemployed women, working mothers, stay-at-home mothers; of the women interviewed most admitted to struggling to their child’s needs. Worrying about not being able to provide food, clothing, education and basic necessities for their families is filling them with anxiety by the bucket loads.
Some of the women confided that they were not coping. That coupled with sexual harassment in the workplace and an unstable household is causing more women to develop anxiety and depressive disorders.
The hormonal fluctuations that a woman goes through in the different stages of life – puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, miscarriage, infertility, menopause – plays a hand in the reaction in women to these and the above situations.
As a society we have little to no understanding of mental health issues. Walking on egg-shells doesn’t solve anything. It is important to seek professional help and find support to help get you through depression and anxiety. Rethink how you treat your partner and reshape the gender stereotypes that’s causing such a volatile future for all.